Even as a dense fog blanketed the field and enveloped all the players on it, one thing remained abundantly clear:
The most complete girls soccer team in Nipomo High history is ready to capture its first league championship.
Three different Titans scored, the defense kept everything in front of it, and Nipomo continued its best Los Padres League season to date with a 3-0 home victory over Morro Bay on Tuesday.
“It’s just different,” said coach Josh Lee, whose Titans improved to 9-1-1 in league and 9-6-2 overall. “We’ve had different teams, dynamics and players in years past, but it’s more of a collective team effort for sure.
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“When our subs come in, it’s not much of a let down, where in years past, we’ve had to rely heavily on our starters.”
Senior forwards Mayra Bautista and Vanessa Avila potted first-half goals to stake the Titans to a 2-0 lead before the fog began to settle around the stadium.
“When you’re standing in the middle of the field, it’s not as bad,” Morro Bay coach Marcus des Plantes said. “For us as coaches to see 60, 70 yards across the field is hard, but the players can see a lot better.”
Sophomore midfielder Viviana Silva added an insurance goal with 10 minutes to play, capitalizing on a free kick just outside the 18-yard box with a hard shot that smacked the crossbar and bounced in.
“It’s not like they have one or two good players; they have 10 good players,” des Plantes said of Nipomo. “They’re just well-balanced.”
After opening the season with losses to PAC 8 schools Pioneer Valley and Arroyo Grande and an 0-3 showing at the Grace Brethren Tournament, the Titans reeled off six straight LPL victories, including a 1-0 win over two-time defending league champion Santa Ynez.
“I wasn’t actually expecting this (success),” Avila said, “but after we won at Santa Ynez, I knew we’d be able to accomplish all this stuff.”
“The way we play together (makes us successful), and we don’t get down on each other. We bring each other up, and push each other to get goals and win games.”
Lee said an inexperienced roster coupled with a demanding preseason schedule equally contributed to the slow start, but the lessons learned during that tough stretch are paying dividends as Nipomo looks for a 10th league win and beyond.
“The preseason is all about fitness and preparation for league,” he said. “They were down because we were winless, but ... despite the losses, we were able to take good things out of it.”
The Titans defense limited Morro Bay (6-13-1, 4-6-1) to two shots on goal, and the Pirates’ best chance came on a short-range free kick that standout sophomore Emma Hotaling fired over the bar.
“She’s a marked woman,” des Plantes said of Hotaling, who has 16 goals this year. “As a coach, what I have to do is learn to hide her.
“That’s been our issue right now — a good team is 11 people strong, not one. We’re really trying to develop the program as 17 or 18 good players.”
That’s the kind of depth Nipomo has strived for and appears to have attained this year, as the Titans were able to overcome a 2-0 setback against Cabrillo on Jan. 22 with another 1-0 win over Santa Ynez before back-to-back 3-0 victories.
“We were feeling the pressure when we were undefeated, because that hadn’t happened before,” Lee said. “We had that letdown against Cabrillo, and now, they’re refocused and they’ve got the end goal in mind.”
The LPL title is not decided yet, with Lompoc still unbeaten (7-0-3) in league matches and Cabrillo at 7-1-2.
The Titans close the regular season at the Braves on Feb. 12 in what could decide the league title.
“We’re actually very excited and nervous at the same time,” Avila said. “It’s never happened before, but I think it’s more excitement than nervousness now.”