The Hartnell College women’s soccer team became state champions for the first time in program history after defeating the Cypress Chargers—seeded first in Southern California—with a 3-0 victory on Sunday, Dec. 5.
The Hartnell Panthers started the season with two consecutive losses but after that, dominated with mostly wins, sprinkled with a couple of ties. This ascending success helped the Panthers to have a meteoric rise through the state rankings. In early November, Hartnell was ranked seventh in the state; a month later, they won the state championship.
Over championship weekend Dec. 3-5, the team scored a total of five goals. On Friday they won 2-1 against the Mount San Antonio Mounties, the home team, and on Sunday they crushed the Cypress Chargers.
The Panthers dominated the game against the Chargers. Sophomore forward Belinda Ascencio opened the scoreboard at minute 16. Ten minutes later, freshman forward Jasmin Castillo (who was playing as a winger) shot on goal from the left and landed the ball into the right corner of the net. Toward the end of the first half, Castillo did it again and scored a third goal for the Panthers.
During the second half, the Panthers continued to play defensively and tried to get a greater lead. When they faced the Sierra Wolverines the Panthers had a similar lead, and Wolverines closed the gap scoring two goals in just nine minutes toward the end of the game, raising the Wolverines’ hopes of tying the game.
The Panthers kept pushing but didn’t score more goals. The game ended 3-0, crowning the Panthers as state champions. “I'm just speechless. This group of girls are just so talented,” Head Coach Ivan Guerrero says.
The star of the championship and the most valuable player was Castillo, an18-year-old from Watsonville, whose goals sealed the Panthers’ victories. Castillo says both goals were unexpected. “I didn't think they were going to go in, but you know what? They did!” She says she was calm and patient during the game.
“This experience feels so unreal,” Castillo says, especially because during the championship games, she scored half of the total goals she scored during the entire season (25 games).
This is the Panthers’ most successful season, but it is a success that took over a decade to build. “None of this is possible without the players from previous years. They believed in us. They kept us in the hunt for playoffs,” Guerrero says.
The men’s teams qualified for the state championship game and they were seeking their second championship title but fell short, despite dominating the game in the second half.
The Mount San Antonio Mounties were in control during the first half. Both teams neutralized each other's offensive plays, but the Mounties were more centered. The Mounties scored at minute 36, heading into the second half with a lead.
In the second half, the Panthers looked energized, playing offensively seeking to tie the score. At minute 74, sophomore forward Anthony Rangel was fueling the Panthers, and landed a game-tying goal. But the Mounties went on to score again in the last minute of the game, securing the state title with a 2-1 victory over Hartnell.
Panthers head coach Daniel Ortega says it’s hard to lose when it happens in the last minute, but he recognizes the Mounties are a powerhouse. “They are really really good in the counter (attack), and that’s where they got us,” Ortega says. “It's an unlucky way to lose, but I’m really proud of the guys.”
"They [the Panthers] had a good game plan. It could've gone either way. Mounties head coach Juan Sanchez told CCCAA. “We had a better first half and they had a better second half and at the end, we ended up getting the one that counted."
Guerrero says now that the season it's over, it's time to start recruiting players for the next season. “I'm just glad that the whole state and the whole country was able to see the amount of talent that we have in the Salinas Valley,” he says.