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Photo Essay: Girls’ varsity soccer handed heartbreaking loss in MCAL championship

One single penalty kick was the difference in the girls’ varsity Marin County Athletic League (MCAL) soccer championship. All night long, the Branson Bulls and Redwood Giants were neck-and-neck, as neither team could break away from the other. 

From the very start of the first half, it was evident that it would be incredibly difficult for either team to penetrate the other’s defense. Junior Tessa Marshall was strong all night long, consistently setting back Branson’s attacks with fierce tackles and strong clearing kicks. Behind her was junior goalie Leah Volpentest, who keenly stepped off her line multiple times in order to stun Branson’s attacks. Yet, the Giants really struggled to turn defense into offense, as Branson’s back line consistently won possession of Redwood’s passes, turning the first half into a slow-paced match of long balls. 

But as the second half wore on without any offensive action, the Giants were finally able to advance deep into Branson territory. Senior Dakota Ledesma made a shifty move along the left sideline to beat a defender before passing the ball to senior Ellie Kemos. Kemos made a beautiful cross, falling right in the lap of junior Sarah Farese, who fired a rocket into the back of the net. 

Redwood kept their foot on the gas, with senior Coco Boyden facilitating multiple strong runs down the sideline by junior Evelyn Spiegel, but the Giants could not penetrate past the Bulls’ back line. Junior Charlotte Lacy then led a run of her own before being tripped and awarded a free kick, while a Branson player received a yellow card. 

But in a sudden turn of events, the Bulls gained possession and quickly surmounted a counter-attack before a hard Redwood foul led to a free-kick. Deflecting off the Giants’ keeper, the free kick fell right into Branson’s feet and was easily kicked in for a goal to tie the game at one.

Just minutes later, the Bulls fostered an attack that led to a corner-kick after a Redwood clearance out of bounds. The ball was crossed in and deflected from one Branson player to another sitting right in front of the goal, who kicked it in easily. However, saving the Giants’ championship hopes, the sideline referee called Branson offsides. With just seconds remaining before the whistle blew, Branson junior Ally Hsieh found an opening and took a strong shot on goal, missing just wide right. 

With two ten-minute periods in overtime, the first team to score would win. In the first period, neither team was able to build up any surmountable attacks as Ledesma and Marshall stood strong in the back, but the offense continued to stall out. Kemos was finally able to get a shot on goal for the Giants in the middle of the second period, but it missed by a wide margin. Branson then took the ball into Redwood territory, but Volpentest continued her dominant night, stopping two meager attacks. The overtime whistle blew, sending the game into penalty kicks. 

Each team converted on their first two penalties, with Boyden starting it off for Redwood, followed by freshman Teagan McCormick. But with the Giants missing their third shot and Branson making theirs, the pressure was on for Lacy, who was kicking for the Giants. She nonchalantly buried hers into the bottom left corner, and then Volpentest made a spectacular save, diving to her right to even the score. Again, both teams made their next two, which brought up the seventh penalty for the Giants. With the crowd on its feet, the shot sailed high, giving Branson a chance to win with a made shot. The Bulls buried it, giving them the win in the MCAL championship game. 

In an incredible, hard-fought game by the Giants, they lost 1-1 (6-5) in penalties. They now turn their focus to the North Coast Section playoffs.

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About the Contributor
Matthew Knauer, Sports Editor
Matthew Knauer is a junior at Redwood High School and is a sports editor for the bark. He enjoys playing baseball, surfing, and hanging out with friends.