Antioch, comprising mainly underclassmen, has taken advantage of the enhanced preseason, allowing the team more time to get its act together. Head coach Scott Joseph and his girls took advantage of the extra preseason games, winning two out of three in last weekend’s Tri-Valley Classic in preparation for what promises to be a tough BVAL slate.
“We probably bit off a little bit more than we can chew against Archbishop Mitty (a 7-0 loss). But we’re doing a good job,” said Joseph. “We’re beating the teams that we’re supposed to beat and yeah, we took our lumps. But tactically, the girls are getting it. At the tournament, we played on turf, we played fast and that helps.”
Joseph also felt that the hard losses against the top teams in the Bay Area provided his players the opportunity to learn their weaknesses. Similarly, the better games against the lesser opponents gave the Panthers the chance to discover their strengths.
The young team is led by three senior tri-captains: outside midfielder Gianna Lucido, forward Jessica Huerta and defender/midfielder Paige Bickford. Huerta is tied with freshman midfielder/striker/defender Kailee Soares for second place on the team with four goals. Ahead of them is sophomore midfielder/defender Alicia Palma, who has notched five goals and five assists.
“It’s hard to compete with what we did last year, but we’re really building it up,” said Lucido. “At first I was worried about communication, but it looks like we’re getting through to the younger players.”
The Panthers are hoping to finish at least in the top four in league play, which would equal their finish from last year and likely earn them another trip to the playoffs. But it won’t be easy. Freedom and Liberty are their primary competition, and Heritage plus Deer Valley are also potential obstacles.
Antioch completed the preseason with a 4-7-1 record. The majority of the losses came against top teams from the East Bay Athletic League, which fields a deep pool of talent derived from strong club teams. Since finding themselves on the wrong end of consecutive shutouts, 7-0 to Archbishop Mitty and 6-0 to Amador Valley, the Panthers have posted a 2-1-1 record.
“We started out slow,” said Bickford. “We do have a lot of freshmen, so it was difficult trying to mesh them in with our style of play. But overall, I see a progression with them. It’s really nice to see them where they are now after the first day of practice.”
The league season began on Jan. 11 with a 2-1 loss to cross-town rival Deer Valley, which finished the preseason at 5-3. League games will be played Tuesdays and Thursdays until the finale on Feb. 10.
“Looking at the other teams, I think that we have more strength now,” Huerta said. “I think we can beat the other teams; I think we have the strength and ability.”
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