By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Maria Carrillo is looking to make a little soccer history today. Twice.
At 4:30 p.m., the Carrillo girls team will face Montgomery for the North Coast Section Division 1 section championship at Santa Rosa High. At 7 p.m. on the same field, the boys will take on Tamalpais for their own D1 title.
“It is special,” girls coach Debra LaPrath said. “It’s fun to see the togetherness we’ve experienced with the boys team, and our journey together to the final game.”
The Pumas will play in two of the five NCS soccer championship games this weekend. Elsewhere, Middletown and Sonoma Academy vie for the girls Division 3 banner at Clear Lake High, the Roseland Prep boys play Marin Academy at Redwood High in Division 2 and Anderson Valley hosts Leadership in boys Division 3. All of those games are Saturday afternoon.
Appropriately, the main events come later in the day, with all eyes focused on the Pumas.
Only twice in the 24-year history of NCS soccer has a school won boys and girls titles in the same year, with Santa Rosa sweeping in 1989 and again in 1997. This one would be even more remarkable, because both Maria Carrillo teams enter the final game undefeated.
The girls are 19-0. The boys are 22-0-2. Neither team has lost since the boys were knocked out of the 2011 playoffs by Tamalpais exactly one year ago; neither has so much as tied since Aug. 31, when the boys deadlocked with Redwood.
Both are favored to take home first-place medals, though the boys should have their hands full with Tamalpais. The Red Tailed Hawks went 19-3-3, won the Marin County Athletic League and handed the Pumas one of their two ties.
“Style-wise, we are extremely similar teams,” Carrillo boys coach Mike Mastin said. “I think that will make for an interesting match.
We both try to play high-tempo and get a lot of goals. And another thing, they are solid at every position. They really have no weaknesses we can point out and say, ‘This is what we’ll try to attack.’”
The Maria Carrillo girls won a breakthrough section title last year and haven’t looked back since. They face a familiar foe in Montgomery, which has won four titles of its own in the past decade. The Pumas girls beat the Vikings 2-1 and 3-1 this year, though LaPrath doesn’t expect her players to take anything for granted.
“The past is past,” she said. “They’ve had a real maturity about looking at that, and how anything is possible. Like the upset of Newman and Casa (by Rancho Cotate and Analy, respectively, in this year’s playoffs). At any given time a team can be beat, including us. … We know we’re playing the second-best team in the NBL and we’d better bring our A game.”
Both Pumas coaches insist they never discussed going undefeated with their players. LaPrath’s goal was another NCS title, however her team might get there. Mastin’s focus has been game-by-game performance.
One huge reason both squads have managed to be so consistent is strong senior leadership.
LaPrath noted that the girls’ annual Senior Night celebration broke the mold this year. The underclassmen printed 16-by-20 action shots of each senior on poster board, decorated their gift bags with the colors and mascots of universities they’ll be attending, wrote “amazing” speeches to honor them, performed a group dance and delivered a dozen roses to each senior.
“I’ve been here 17 seasons, and I never had a Senior Night like that,” LaPrath said. “It was a dedication from top to bottom, and I think it shows how much they respect and admire what this senior class has done.”
Likewise, Mastin believes his team’s intensity starts with his seniors.
“I think they’re extremely focused,” he said of his players. “We had a lot of slaps on the back and smiles after the game (Wednesday, a victory over Terra Linda). But as soon as they were called in for our postgame meeting, they were focused: ‘Yes, we’re happy to be here, but we have another game to play.’”
The Pumas boys and girls practice on adjacent fields. In years past, according to LaPrath, there was friendly but pointed ribbing between the two, with the boys jabbing at the girls. This year, she said, it has been a more collegial environment. The genders have even scrimmaged.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie,” Mastin said. “A lot of these kids play in the same club together. They know one another from their club days. Also, both having a successful year leads to a common goal between the two programs.”
When the girls hosted Analy at dusk on Wednesday, Mastin’s boys began filling the stands in the first half, and were there en massed for the second. After the Pumas’ victory, most of the girls returned to the field to watch the boys beat Terra Linda.
Both teams would like nothing more than to reprise the scene Saturday at Ernie Nevers Field — with the addition of a couple of championship medal ceremonies.
You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.