Owls embrace mud, slide past Thacher 2-1

You can either get stuck in the mud or have fun in it.

Laguna Blanca’s girls soccer team chose the latter in Hope Ranch on Saturday, doing some celebratory slides on the wet field after defeating visiting Thacher 2-1 to remain undefeated in the Condor League. The Owls have now swept the Toads as well as Cate this year, a feat never accomplished by the program.

“It’s pretty amazing. Everyone plays their heart out every single game,” said senior goalie Nikki Byrne.

Becca Braly scored early in the first half and Erin Stone did the same in the second for the Owls, who honored their seniors with flowers after the match in a hug-fest of a ceremony. 

“This unit is so close, and it starts with the seniors,” said coach Gregg Luna. “They’re being great captains, great leaders and the freshmen have picked up on it.”

Luna got to say something after the match that not many coaches are able to, calling his squad the best team in school history. One more conference game against Dunn stands between the Owls and an unbeaten league season.

Braly’s goal was answered by a long-distance beauty of a goal by the Toads to even the score heading into halftime. Just a few minutes after the break, Laguna used some nice passes to get the ball to the top of the box, and Stone let off a shot that rolled right by the Thacher keeper.

Luna yelled out “0-0 girls!” immediately after the score, reminding the team to keep up the pressure. Laguna did just that, as the ball was on Thacher’s side of the field for the vast majority of the second half. Luna said that the play of Stone and Fiona Jessup in the midfield played a big role in shutting down the Thacher offense, as did the Laguna defenders. Senior captain Monica Beltran left the game early in the second half with a broken nose, but Izzy Greer filled in nicely.

While the players ended up with muddy socks, Laguna’s pitch seemed to hold up nicely throughout the game. Athletic Director Mike Biermann reportedly spent the morning on the grass with a squeegee and some sand in a de-swamping operation.

As far as postseason ambitions, both Byrne and Luna said that making the second round of playoffs is the team’s goal, as the Owls (12-3-1, 4-0-1) have never done so. The 2007 squad won a wild-card game to make the first round before being eliminated.

“We want to be the best team in school history, and we also want to make it really hard for future teams to earn that name,” said Byrne, mud smeared on her face like war-paint.