The Kimball High girls’ chance to claim a Sac-Joaquin Section title was denied on Saturday by a Sonora team that took control early and gave Kimball (16-4, 6-2 Valley Oak League) few chances to score until Sonora had a dominant lead.
Sonora’s 16-7 win at Roseville Aquatics Center was the third time in as many years that the Wildcats (24-6, 6-0 Mother Lode League) have defeated Kimball for the SJS Division 3 banner. Kimball beat Sonora in the final in 2016 and beat El Capitan for the title in 2015.
Both teams put up strong defense at the start, but Sonora players soon found their way past Kimball’s defenders to score the first two goals of the game. Junior Jillyn Lucero scored the Jaguars’ first goal midway through the first quarter, but the Wildcats continued to extend their lead to go ahead 4-1 at the end of the first quarter.
The Jaguars still put up a stubborn defense, with seniors Ella Bernal and Olivia Taylor, junior Jenika Tanjuakio, and freshman Lauryn Lucero all stealing the ball from Sonora’s offense. Kimball had plenty of opportunities on offense, but Sonora senior goalie Liberty Wheeler made six saves in the first half.
The Wildcats were up 8-1 before Kimball scored again late in the second quarter on a shot from Lauryn Lucero on an assist from Tanjuakio.
The Wildcats came out strong again in the third quarter and extended their lead to 11-2 before Kimball made three goals in a row in the final 2 minutes. First Tanjuakio shot from the left, next she passed to Lauryn Lucero for another goal, and then Lauryn Lucero fired in a shot from the right to cut Sonora’s lead to 11-5.
“At the half, we just knew that it wasn’t over yet and we had two more quarters to play and we had to give our all,” Tanjuakio said. “We knew that it was a clean slate from the start of the third quarter.”
Kimball was even more aggressive in the fourth quarter with Taylor taking shots up the middle. Taylor made one goal to cut Sonora’s lead to 12-7 early in the fourth quarter, but that turned out to be Kimball’s last goal of the game. The Jaguars kept up their offensive pressure only to see Sonora goalie Wheeler block those shots. She blocked seven Kimball shots in the second half.
“We knew it would be a hard game. We expected to come out strong and play one-on-one with them, and I think we did that,” Taylor said.
While the Jaguars took the loss on Saturday, the team's status as Division 3 runner-up is a big achievement. Kimball has been to the Division 3 final for five years in a row, winning it the first two times, while Sonora has won it the last three times.
“We had a great season. We finished as strong as we could.,” Taylor said. “We beat Ripon. That was our goal. We just played really well all together.”
First-year Kimball coach Casey Heinen said he wasn’t sure what to expect from Sonora, but he’s come to expect a level of play from the Kimball team that matches up with any team they’ve faced this year.
“The way I coach and the way we played all year, it doesn’t matter who we play. We’re going to play our game,” he said. “I feel like we did that today. We did it against a much stronger, physically stronger team. That enabled us to not only hold them on their drives, like we can with most other teams, like they were holding us on their drives. We stayed in the game and played really hard the whole time.”
Both teams qualified for the California Interscholastic Federation Northern Regional championship tournament. Teams from the Sac-Joaquin, Central Coast, Central and North Coast sections will compete in three eight-team brackets, with championship games to be played in San Jose on Nov. 23.
Kimball opens the Division 3 tournament at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Garces Memorial High in Bakersfield. Kimball is the No. 6 seed in the Division 3 bracket and Garces Memorial is the No. 3 seed. Sonora is the No. 1 seed in the bracket, and plays No. 8 San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno.
Brackets, matchups and game locations will be announced Sunday afternoon at www.cifstate.org.