Heading into the final two games of the Bay Valley Athletic League girls soccer season, Liberty and Heritage were tied for first place with matching 8-0 records and had two matches against each other to determine the league champion.
The first game was held at Liberty on Tuesday, May 25. The Lions pulled out a 2-1 victory to guarantee a share of the league title. The Patriots hosted the rematch two days later. And while the site changed, the result was identical. Liberty again defeated Heritage 2-1 to lock up a 10-0 season — the first in school history — and a league title.
“We always feel grateful,” Liberty coach Tony Martins said. “The fact that there were no North Coast Section playoffs increased the pressure to win league. The last week, playing Heritage back to back was physically demanding for both teams. Heritage is a great squad, and we are fortunate to have won both games.”
As is so often the case for the Lions, the defense was the backbone of the team. The season started with a 2-1 victory over Freedom on April 27. The one goal surrendered to the Falcons would be the last that Liberty would allow until the season’s final two games.
Not only did the Lions keep a clean sheet for all of the intervening matches, but they were generally dominant. Aside from the 2-1 win over Freedom, the pair of 2-1 wins against Heritage and a forfeit victory over Deer Valley (which brings an automatic 1-0 final), all of Liberty’s wins were by 4-0 or more.
With the perfect season, the Lions have now lost only 14 league games over the last 15 seasons, and only two league games over the last four years. That’s a record that essentially any coach in any sport would be happy to boast. Martins is no different, and especially noted that one of the quirks of soccer is that the best team doesn’t always come away with the desired result.
“Outcomes are never guaranteed,” he said. “If you have been around soccer long enough, you have dominated games and lost and have been dominated and won. We respect every opponent.”
Of course, a great season like that doesn’t come without key individual contributors. Senior forward Alexis Gutierrez won the league MVP, while junior forward Madison Del Prado led the Lions statistically in most offensive categories.
Additionally, five of Liberty’s seniors will go on to play in college next year. Gutierrez will play at St. Mary’s College; goalkeepers Ashley Levi and McKenzie Maggiore at Vanguard University and La Verne University, respectively, defender Kiara Rodriguez at St. Bonaventure University, while midfielder Kylee Gregory will play at Central Washington University.
The league championship was the eighth in a row for the Liberty team. When comparing this team to the other seven — all of which Martins also coached, Martins praised this team’s resiliency.
“Players playing both high school and club took player management to a new level,” he said. “There was a lot of recovery, rest days and shortened training sessions.”
And while there were COVID restrictions this year, playing in the spring did create some advantages. Martins noted that some parents joked about how nice it was not having to bring blankets to games, which is much more common during the normal winter high school soccer season.
Another challenge posed by this season was — with so many sports running at the same time — the Lions were forced to get creative with their practice schedule. But for Martins, challenges like that helped make the season all the more rewarding.
“The season was challenging and gratifying,” Martins said. “The challenge was having to organize training schedules for so many sports playing at the same time. We had to train at 6 a.m. four consecutive Wednesdays because we were also hosting track meets.”
“That being said, there was a lot of coordination between all coaches to work together and help one another. The gratifying portion — in addition to being 10-0 for the first time in school history — was obviously getting the opportunity for the girls to play.”