After 24 years, Tigers finally celebrate soccer title

Roseville takes down Rocklin to win section crown
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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When you have been fighting for a goal for a quarter of a century, you have to occasionally wonder if it just wasn’t meant to be. As the second half of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II girls soccer championship game began Saturday at Folsom High School, Roseville High coach Pablo Gutierrez had to be wondering. This time, his team would not be denied and the Tigers scored late to claim a 2-1 win over SFL rival Rocklin to win their first section crown. “When that wind came to start the second half, it was not good,” Gutierrez said. “It took a few minutes, but then my girls stepped up and started to play their game.” The winds had been largely still while the teams battled to a 1-1 score at intermission, but when the gusts did show up after the break, the wind was blowing right in the Tigers’ face. It was not the kind of situation that you look for as a coach, but then this is no ordinary team, nor is it an ordinary coach. From day one this season, Roseville looked like a section champion. Gutierrez is in his 24th year on the bench with the girls team (he has coached the Roseville boys for 34 seasons), and he had yet to take home a section banner. A year ago, his Lady Tigers were a surprise entry in the title game, but fell to a superior Oak Ridge team in a penalty kick shootout. “The biggest difference for us this year was speed,” Gutierrez said. “Paige and Amanda are strong, but we also have Chanisse Hendrix able to explode up the outside and we had Amanda Susbilla with us the whole year so she knows what we like to do.” Then, last year’s strong sophomore class became experienced juniors and an outstanding crop of freshman came over from the local middle school. The icing on the cake came in the form of a transfer student, also a freshman, whose family moved in from Georgia. Paige Crouch provided Roseville with a dynamic offensive presence to team with returning junior Amanda Ellsworth. Ellsworth often found herself playing in the Roseville defense last season as Gutierrez searched for answers there, but this year, the Tigers were strong in the back and the striker was back home, alongside a player much like herself. “Paige and I are from the same style of soccer,” Ellsworth said. “We see things the same way and work together very well. Our defense has really stepped up this year and that has allowed me to go up and work with Paige.” The dynamic duo has found an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time and create plays for each other. That was true again on Saturday, and while Rocklin did not go quietly, Roseville found itself clutching the banner when the final whistle blew. “There was chemistry there (between me and Amanda) from the first day,” Crouch said. “We have continued to work on it and it has grown as the season went along.” Gutierrez credits the soccer IQ of both players as a major key to their success in tandem. “They are both very smart players who see the field so well,” Gutierrez said. “The know when to make runs for each other and when to pass. They are just able to make plays.” Roseville jumped on the Thunder in the game’s second minute, as Ellsworth possessed the ball in the middle of the field and then pushed it wide to Kayla Granucci. The outside midfielder then sent the ball back towards the middle to the spot now vacated as Ellsworth continued through, where her pass found Crouch on the run to the open space. The freshman rarely misses when an opportunity is there and she did not miss this time either, burying the ball in the net from 15 yards out to give the Tigers an early advantage. The quick early strike has not been common for Roseville, a team that has often struggled in the first half before turning it on with decisiveness in the second. On this day, it might have been a double-edged sword. The Tigers had another great chance just three minutes later when Crouch slipped an outstanding through-ball for Ellsworth, but the Rocklin goalkeeper was on it just ahead of the onrushing Tiger to stop the chance. “When you score a goal that quickly, there are two things that can happen,” Gutierrez said. “You get them down or they get mad and decide they are not going down that easily. This is a good Rocklin team and they came back strong.” In fact, after Roseville controlled the ball and the pace of play for the first 15 minutes, the Thunder took over and spent a lot of time in front of the Tigers’ net the rest of the first half. A couple of nice saves by Roseville keeper Ellie Foster-Williams and some strong defense by Kelsey DeCarlo and Kayla Granley on the back line helped the Tigers maintain the lead for a while. DeCarlo and outside defender Allison Campbell were among a group of five Roseville players who were in jeopardy of missing the game due to a dance recital that was a mandatory part of their grade in a dance class. As it turned out, the game time fell conveniently in between the two performances, and the Tigers were at full strength. After coming up empty on half a dozen corner kick attempts, Rocklin finally found a way to equalize on a corner kick in the 35th minute. The ball was laid out in front of the goal and when the Tigers were unable to clear it, it bounced around like a pinball until it was played off of a Roseville defender into the net. Foster-Williams was able to push a Rachel Spaulding free kick from about 25 yards out over the top of the frame just seconds before halftime to keep the score even at 1-1. The improvement in their goalkeeper play was one of the noticeable signs of development over the course of the year. “We told her that she would have to win games for us along the way,” Gutierrez said. “She really worked on her footwork and on her hands all year.” Foster-Williams was the only senior starter Saturday, and most of the year, for the section champions. With the Tigers scrambling to get back to their organized attack and control of the game, the winds kicked up for the second half and caused even more concern. One of Roseville’s great strengths, which was on display throughout the first half, is the Tigers’ knack for winning balls in the air. Ellsworth, Adriane Bates and Campbell are all very good at using their bodies to get themselves in position to head high balls, and Roseville often turns those fresh possessions into points. With a midfield anchored by Savannah Coiner and Mikayla Clifford, the Thunder presented plenty of problems for Roseville all night long. Megan Hansen, Guilana Grana, Spaulding and Torey Walter did a nice job poking balls away from Roseville attackers at times, but the attackers kept on coming as the second half rolled on. With Granley, DeCarlo, Campbell and Marissa Lopez stepping up their game on defense for Roseville, the Tigers began to create chances with balls on the ground. The willingness to make the pass has characterized this Roseville team and it paid off Saturday. Bates, Granucci, Hendriz, Susbilla and even freshman reserve Lauren Stafford did not shy away from physical play in the midfield, and the Tigers took control once again. For the incredible scorers they are, both Crouch and Ellsworth recognize that there are times to create their own shot and times to give the ball up. “I learned it from my parents,” Crouch said when asked about her affinity for passing. “When you have a God-given gift, you need to be unselfish about the way you use it.” These players love to pass, but both have a nose for the back of the net and know how to find it. The tenacity with which they attack at the offensive end makes them nearly impossible to shut down, especially on this team that offers additional weapons up top even beyond the two of them. “You can always tell a goal scorer,” Ellsworth said. “There is some ego there because you are telling your opponent ‘I’m going to get there before you and put the ball in the goal.” As the second half progressed, the chances came more and more regularly. Playing the ball on the ground allowed the Tigers to use their pinpoint passing and their superior speed to apply pressure. In the 44th minute, just four minutes into the second half, Ellsworth led Crouch perfectly, but the keeper came out with good timing and forced the freshman forward to get too deep and send her shot into the side netting. Two minutes later, the same combination led to a one-on-one between Crouch and the Rocklin goalie. After she was past the keeper, her shot on goal was turned aside by a Thunder defender only to have another player mis-hit a shot on goal. Rocklin had a five minute stretch just after those chances during which they had the Roseville goal under constant attack. The flurry of activity included on shot that hit the crossbar but did not go in. Finally, in the 69th minute, Sabrina Guzman won a hard-fought ball along the sideline for the Tigers and the found Ellsworth in the middle of the field. An attempt to clear by the Rocklin defense came right to Ellsworth, who saw Crouch and laid the ball off. Crouch beat a Rocklin defender off the dribble and finished far post to put the Tigers on top. The tally proved to be the game winner. Gutierrez was excited to claim his first girls section title, but mostly he was happy for his players. “The key is to get a good group to work with, and this is a great group of girls,” Gutierrez said.