Casteel’s girls’ soccer program, the defending champions at the 5A level, played just about as well as they could Saturday, Feb. 25 in their fourth straight trip to the title game.
It was a close battle between the Colts and Chaparral, a perennial powerhouse in the conference. But at the end of the day, it all came down to the right foot of Chaparral senior Faith Secrest for the 5A State Title.
She had her corner chosen and her mind empty as she placed the ball, staring down Casteel goalie Ariel Bernard. She gave a quick stutter step akin to Messi, followed it with a swift kick, and the ball sank into the back of the net.
It was at that moment the Firebirds became state champions, bringing a heartbreaking end to yet another successful season for the Casteel girls.
“I saw that in the World Cup and I said, ‘I want to do that,’” Secrest said. “I practiced that all season and it paid off,” Secrest said.
It took every ounce of strength with every player digging deep, but it was certainly earned after the Firebirds came out victorious, 1-1 (3-2 penalty kicks) after nearly two hours of playing.
“(It was) pure relief,” Secrest added. “That when it went in, we won. It was everything I needed — this is my last soccer game ever.”
In a game which she didn’t know if she would be playing due to an inflamed MCL, Secrest cemented Chaparral as state champions.
However, it couldn’t have been done without the effort of the entire team. Morgan Cohen scored the game’s opening goal with an assist by her younger sister, Marin, 10 minutes into the first half.
Junior Aria Cain of Casteel answered back with a goal of her own 10 minutes later. Cain has been one of the Colts’ top players all season, scoring 10 total goals and was only behind standout senior Nathalie Lewis’ 20 goals.
Both teams had scoring opportunities throughout the game, but the two evenly matched teams remained in a stalemate for the remainder of regulation. Along with the rest of Casteel’s line of defense, Bernard was brilliant in goal.
She and the rest of her team held Chaparral scoreless through both 10-minute extra time periods and both five-minute sudden-death periods, too. Though Chaparral managed to do the same. That brought along penalty kicks.
Morgan Fielder sank the first PK for the Colts, then both tries from Chaparral and Casteel were stuffed.
Chaparral answered with a goal by Cohen to tie it 1-1. Morgan Longacre sank the next kick for the Colts to give them the lead once again, but Hennessey Brown answered back for Chaparral.
Then, Sophia Trice of Casteel was denied at the net by Lexi Baldwin, leaving Secrest to win it.
Chaparral coach Robyn Carlson said they had to play with heart.
“There’s a point when you go to exhaustion, and you have to lift above that,” she said. “To watch them all season then to finish like that is amazing. We practice PKs all the time in practice, and you just got to know that they’re going to believe in what they’re going to do and take a deep breath and do it. And they just did just that.”
Casteel coach Jason Hammond, who has become one of the top coaches in the state due to his success helping build the girls’ soccer program, said he was disappointed in the officiating.
He felt there were missed calls at crucial moments of the match that could’ve determined an alternative outcome.
“We have a player dragged down in the box so hard she hits her head off the ground and no call whatsoever,” Hammond said. “They had done a good job right up until the end, then it was just let’s put our whistles away and let whatever happen, happen.
“When you have two of your normal penalty kickers injured because we can’t get call in overtime, there’s not much you can do.”
Despite what he believed were missed calls, Hammond said he was extremely proud of his group and would like to see more respect toward them and his program after all they have done.
Casteel ended its season 13-5-1 overall, with its only losses coming against Chaparral twice – in the first match of the season and title game – as well as two powerhouse programs from California and Millennium, another perennial power in the West Valley.
The Colts were the No. 4 seed heading into the tournament, and knocked off Desert Mountain, Cienega and top-ranked Notre Dame en route to their fourth straight appearance in the championship.