BY RILEY PALSHAW
After making history by becoming the first Carmel High School varsity girls’ soccer team to have an undefeated season in league and win the title of champions in the Cypress Division of the Pacific Coast Athletic League, the team finished their season after making it to the semifinals of the CCS Division Ⅳ Playoffs.
Carmel (10-0 in PCAL, 16-3-1 overall) scored a total of 75 goals and only allowed 25 goals. The low number of goals scored against Carmel can be tied to the freshman goalie Jordan Chiewpanich, whose 138 saves were a major contributing factor.
“Whether it is a practice, a weak opponent, a strong opponent, no matter our league or division, it doesn’t matter,” head coach Krista Winkler says. “I feel strongly that it is my job and the job of the other coaches to hold each athlete and the team accountable to play to their potential and to always work toward our goals.”
These athletes had one major goal this season: to win league. After checking that off their list, they aimed to win CCS.
Led by Winkler, Carmel played in the CCS Division Ⅳ Quarterfinals on Feb. 22 against Latino College Prep, winning 3-1. The game started off by highlighting both team’s strong defenses, causing the first half to end with no score, but the momentum quickly picked up when Carmel made their first goal in the second half, scored by freshman Nikki Benak, who collected 18 goals this season and led not only her team, but the entire league, in shots on goal. Junior Cosima Cristofalo, who had 19 goals overall, went on to score the following two goals, securing Carmel’s lead against Latino College Prep and guaranteeing their spot in the semifinals.
Losing 4-0 against Sacred Heart Preparatory in the semifinals, Carmel walked off their home field without a CCS title, but instead a season of firsts. And despite the loss, the team still had an unbelievable successful season due to their strong work ethic and their freshman talent.
With major gaps that needed filling at the beginning of the season, underclassmen were put to the test, but made quite an impression.
“Every year, the team and coaches can’t always imagine a team without the girls you lost,” Winkler says. “But every year you build a new team with new chemistry and with girls graduating it leaves gaps for younger players to step up and fill [them]. And our new young players did just that.”
Cristofalo, like many of her teammates, agrees that the younger girls only added to the dynamic of the team, but also points that the team’s level of play can be traced to the overall camaraderie.
“Starting off the season we had a lot of freshman talent coming in which definitely benefited our team,” Cristofalo adds. “But I would attribute most of our success to the incredible team culture we had from the very beginning.”
Since the first day of practice, this group of athletes worked hard to build a strong sense of community, knowing that it would only benefit the team’s level of success.
“When you have a positive team culture where girls trust and support one another you can outplay or contend with anyone,” Winkler says. “You can’t pick girls up and motivate or dig deep in tough games without respect and trust.”