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SHARKS STUN ROYALS FOR SOCCER TITLE

The Sanchez Sharks were underdogs all playoffs long, but Tuesday night they became champions thanks to a penalty kick from striker Mariah Abbey Iriarte. Sanchez defeated the ND Royals in the finals after shocking the top seeded Dolphins in a shootout over the weekend.

By Jose Terlaje

There wasn’t an empty seat in the house at the Guam Football Association Soccer Field as hundreds of fans came out to support their team in the IIAAG Girls High School Soccer Championship game between the Notre Dame Royals and the Simon Sanchez Sharks Tuesday night.

The Sanchez Sharks eventually were victorious over the Royals, winning the championship match 1-0 off a penalty kick scored by Maria Iriarte in the 35th minute. This after a mild upset over the top-ranked Southern Dolphins in the semifinals over the weekend.

The Sharks’ defense was crucial in the win, denying the Royals’ high octane offense from scoring throughout the match.

“It’s amazing. It feels so surreal. My parents and my coaches really wanted this for us and always supported us. They made us get this far. I’m thankful,” said Iriarte, who scored the game-winning penalty kick for the Sharks. She also added that she is very proud of her team for being able to come together and that none of this would have been possible without everyone doing their part on the field.

The 2015 girls soccer champion Sanchez Sharks! (photo by Dan Paran)

The 2015 girls soccer champion Sanchez Sharks! (photo by Dan Paran)

“The Royals have a powerful and fast offense and we really had to limit getting into a footrace with their strikers and midfielders. Not many players in the league can keep up with the speed of those guys. We played a deeper line in order to have fewer gaps in our defense for the Royals to run through and it worked out for the most part,” added Canos about the Sharks’ defensive game plan for this match.

From the start of the match, the Royals looked to attack the Sanchez goal with Destiny Castro stealing ball the moment it was kicked-off by the Sharks. The Royals constantly pressured the Sanchez defense but were unable to get any clear shots on goal.

The Sharks then had a chance to score off a counterattack that found Kameron O’mara open in the ND goal box but her shot was deflected by defender Hopemary Calip. After that attempt by Sanchez, the Royals got back to controlling the ball with Paris “Mames” Blas running the midfield. Blas weaved through multiple defenders, distributing the ball to her teammates. ND’s Elysia Perez also helped out her team’s offense by winning the ball back from the Sharks numerous times and then feeding it to her teammates.

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Late in the half, ND’s Randi Paulino, Castro and Blas worked together to barrage the Sanchez keeper with shots but they were either off target or blocked. Then in the 35th minute on another counterattack by the Sharks, a penalty was called on the Royals in the box, giving Sanchez a penalty kick. The kick was taken by Maria “Abbey” Iriarte who blasted a powerful shot to the top left corner of the ND goal, giving her team a 1-0 lead with the half ending just moments later.

“In the game against Southern I focused hard during my PK and tried to send it to the bottom left corner of their goal but I missed it. This time I knew I had to hit it. I picked the spot I wanted to strike on the ball and the whole time I was telling myself I had to keep it low and hard and not hit the post and it actually worked out,” said Sanchez midfield Maria Iriarte on what was going through her mind as she took the penalty kick that eventually won the championship for her team.

At the start of the second half, Iriarte dominated the midfield, setting up her teammates for scoring opportunities but they just couldn’t finish. The Sharks pressured the Royals’ defense with constant penetration by Donicia Iriarte but ND’s defensive core prevented Sanchez from getting any good looks on goal. The Sharks kept control of the ball throughout the early moments of the second half.

Mames Blas of the Royals fights through two Sharks defenders. (photo by Dan Paran)

Mames Blas of the Royals fights through two Sharks defenders. (photo by Dan Paran)

As time in the half went by with the Royals being desperate to score the equalizer and the Sharks wanting to extend their lead in order to seal the game away, both teams started to play in a very rushed style.

The rushed play by Sanchez and ND lead to the teams continuously trading possessions with majority of the traded positions coming from each team’s defenses clearing the ball.

As the clock started to run down, the Royals felt the sense of urgency and started to pull themselves together on offense, getting back into their offensive rhythm from the first half.

image001The Royals had many chances to score with Taylor Paulino and Castro carrying the ball down the field into scoring range but their attempts were thwarted time and time again by the Sharks’ defensive core consisting of Franshay Shippey, Tayler Naputi, Callia Concepcion and Haane Taitano.

The Sharks had chances to extend their lead after being awarded a number of corner kicks and free kicks but they could not find the back of the net. The Sanchez defenders held down the fort for the remainder of the half, stopping all attacks by the ND offense.

Then the final whistle blew, crowning the Sanchez Sharks champions as they celebrated on the field to the sound of the roaring cheers from the crowd.

“At halftime, I told the girls that soccer has two halves. Although we were technically winning in the first half, it doesn’t mean anything because there was still another left to play. We had to increase the pressure and force the Royals to be more desperate to attack. In the game of soccer a one point lead can go away very quickly so I had to reiterate to the girls that they had to maintain their composure and not get overly excited,” said Sanchez Coach Ron Canos about his halftime words with his team.

Canos gave special thanks to the IIAAG and to GFA for being excellent hosts for the event because it is really great for the players.

PHOTO GALLERY:

The All-Island team was awarded at the end of the 2015 title game. (photo by Dan Paran)

The All-Island team was awarded at the end of the 2015 title game. (photo by Dan Paran)

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