Can Gaucho girls’ experience stop Puma express?

Casa Grande head coach Vinny Cortezzo will lead his Gauchos into the NCS Div. I finals on Saturday night against Maria Carrillo. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / PD).

ByPHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

What counts for more in a championship soccer match, four years of big-game experience or a single season of near-perfection?

We’ll find out Saturday night, beginning at 7, when top-seeded Maria Carrillo takes on No. 3 Casa Grande in an intriguing North Coast Section Division I title game at Santa Rosa High. The Pumas bring a daunting 19-0-1 record into the contest, their only blemish a 2-2 tie at Montgomery on Oct. 18.

The Gauchos (14-2-3) weren’t quite as dominant in 2010. Then again, they are playing in their fourth straight section championship, and several of their core players have suited up for all of them.

“We have 13 seniors on the team, and nine of them have been to three NCS finals already,” Casa coach Vinny Cortezzo said. “We’ve been there. We feel pretty good about our chances.”

Carrillo coach Debra LaPrath, meanwhile, compares this year’s team to her well-balanced squads that made it to three consecutive section finals from 2000 to 2002. Oh, and if the matchup isn’t strong enough on its face, add the revenge factor: Casa Grande knocked out Maria Carrillo in the semifinals last year.

Carrillo beat Casa, 2-0, in the preseason behind assistant coach Ashley Lowery, who took over while LaPrath was in Southern California for her mother’s funeral. The Gauchos believe they are a better team than the one that took the field back on Sept. 1, having gone undefeated in Sonoma County League play and outscored opponents 16-0 in three playoff games. Cortezzo points to the return of four injured starters along the way.

“In the long run, it might have helped, because it forced me to lean on sophomores and juniors, and gave them experience they might not have picked up,” he said. “It made us a little deeper, and it gives me some more options, kids I can count on.”

The kids Cortezzo counts on most are his three cagey midfielders — Noelle Laprevotte, Margi Osmundson and Deirdre Hyde — along with center-back Taylor Derby. Laprevotte is a junior; the rest are seniors. Most of the offensive attacking runs through Laprevotte, who has great vision and tenacity. But really, the strength of the Gauchos is that they have so many potential scorers, it’s ill-advised to focus on any one of them.

None of which makes Casa Grande the favorite in this game. The Pumas play with tremendous confidence and unity, and are loaded with talent from front to back. They’re much younger than the Gauchos, but get plenty of senior leadership from center-backs Kendra Corsberg and Yvonne Metz, and from goalkeeper Emily Sellner.

“They’re so well respected on that team,” LaPrath said. “Everything they ask of the team, they’re willing to do themselves. My kids just respond to that. They’ll do anything for each other. It’s a group of competitive girls, but at the same time super-lighthearted. They have an amazing sense of humor.”

LaPrath will frequently be in the middle of a serious discussion about rankings or strategy, and Corsberg will start into one of her goofy dances. It’s all over after that.
“The sophomores, it’s difficult to get them to stop laughing,” LaPrath said.

Division III

NO. 1 ROSELAND PREP VS.

NO. 2 ST. VINCENT

En route to an overtime loss in the NCS Division III championship last year, the St. Vincent girls got by a young Roseland Prep team, 2-0, in the quarterfinals.

“After that game, I commented they were an up-and-coming force,” Mustangs coach Paul Sweeney said Friday.

Even Sweeney may not have realized how far — and how quickly — the Knights would be coming up. Roseland Prep takes a 15-3-4 record and the No. 1 seed into Saturday afternoon’s final at Santa Rosa High. St. Vincent (16-2) is the second seed, making this the only one-two battle in this year’s NCS finals.

And this time around, it’s the Mustangs who are the greenhorns. Sweeney relies on a core of juniors, and even some freshmen like Rebecca Dodele and Maddie Perry.

“Earlier in the season, I would have had a tough time saying we would have gotten this far,” the coach said. “One of our anchors, Kelly O’Connor, tore her ACL in the third game of the season. That was a huge loss, but the team rallied around and worked pretty hard to stay on top. They’re pretty mature for young players.”

Fortunately for Sweeney, he has experienced hands like Natalia Sumodjo and Gabby George to rely upon. He also has striker Jessica Maynard back from an injury. “She’s our Cody Ross,” Sweeney said, comparing Maynard to the San Francisco Giants’ postseason hero. “She scored a lot of big goals for us.”

St. Vincent attacks from the back forward, and plays a very tight and well-coordinated defense in front of stellar goalkeeper Ashley Torres. The Mustangs yielded just two goals in NCL I South play, and one so far in the playoffs.

They’ll need every big play they can muster against Roseland Prep, which knocked off St. Bernard and Rincon Valley Christian to get here. Coach Alexica Bosque starred for Montgomery, SRJC and SR United, and she has her Knights playing with a similar flair.

Roseland Prep may have another small advantage. St. Vincent is known for its strong crowd support, but Mustangs fans will have to choose between this game and the football season finale vs. Cloverdale.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.