A season that will go down as one of the best in San Luis Obispo High’s history came to an end for the girls soccer team here Saturday when the team ran into a freight train in the form of South Hills.
Stacked with college talent and boasting a No. 1 seed, South Hills lived up to its top billing with a 2-1 win to claim the CIF Southern California Regional Division 3 championship. Even in the bruising loss, San Luis Obispo made history, becoming the first girls soccer team in San Luis Obispo County to make a state regional final.
After South Hills dominated the first half, San Luis Obispo made things interesting when Emily LeMiere, who spent most of the season playing junior varsity, scored to tie the game at 1-1 with 10 minutes to play. But the Huskies kept coming. South Hills’ Hailey Zerbel, who committed to Arizona State next season, scored the game-winner with six minutes left.
The tearful Tigers stood by and watched as South Hills was presented with a CIF championship plaque at midfield. San Luis Obispo coach Leslie O’Connor gathered his team on the sideline and tried to explain what they had accomplished by not just making the game, but making a game out of it.
“You guys can play with anybody,” O’Connor said to his team. “I’m proud of you.”
The spirit of a team loaded with underclassmen that finished the season with just two losses in 30 games, won the PAC 8 (14-0), played 26 games before losing and became the first girls soccer team in county history to win a regional playoff game, was perhaps personified in sophomore goalkeeper Eislee Sohner.
Sohner, who has been battling a lingering illness for a month, came down with a case of pink eye the night before the biggest game of her life and barely slept. But when the game started, Sohner came alive to make six saves against the No. 9 ranked team in the nation. Her kick-save in the first half energized the small group of Tigers supporters who made the 3 1/2 -hour drive to the Covina District Field and kept the team in the game.
“There was a lot of pressure and it is very stressful,” Sohner said of dealing with the South Hills attack that fired 15 shots. “You just got to do it to save the team from losing by a lot.”
“Eislee was phenomenal,” O’Connor said. “For a sophomore that has limited experience playing goalie, she has been phenomenal all season.”
The Tigers took their lumps, too, in a physical game.
Senior captain Grace Wearda sprained her shoulder and Genevieve Basich-Pease tore ligaments in her knee and were both taken to the hospital after the game.
“We came in to start the season and we didn’t think at all we would make it this far,” LeMiere said. “I’m just really proud of the girls.”
O’Connor said it would probably take a week for the sting of the loss to wear off and the gravity of their accomplishments to sink in.
“When you have two returning seniors and seven freshmen on a squad and you finish with 27 wins, I think we did the PAC 8 proud, I think we did San Luis proud,” O’Connor said. “I think the kids can walk away and say ‘You know what? Let’s build for next year.”