It was a season filled with unprecedented success for Olivia Ortiz. There was the 16-game winning streak and trip to the first CIF-Southern Section division final in school history — not to mention her 28 goals and 17 assists in 27 games.
But three failures stick out for the junior star of the San Luis Obispo High School girls soccer team.
First came an early season loss to Paso Robles, then an overtime loss to Temecula Valley in the CIF-Southern Section finals and finally a missed penalty kick and a loss to Sunny Hills in the CIF State Regional semifinals.
Each moment carried meaning and sparked a change. Each moment carried more significance to her than an eye-popping statistical season that ended with Ortiz being named The Tribune’s 2017-18 Girls Soccer County Player of the Year.
Each moment helped define Ortiz as she enters the final season of her decorated high school career and eventually joins the women's soccer team at Cal Poly.
Something about the pregame warmup didn’t feel right to Ortiz when SLO High took the field against Paso Robles on Jan. 26. It was the second game of the PAC 8 season and the first game of the year on artificial turf. She could sense a lack of energy on a team that was still trying to find its identity.
Her instincts were right. SLO High was shut out 2-0.
“I think that kind of woke us up,” Ortiz said. “From that point on, we grew as a team. That was a turning point in the season.”
SLO High (24-3, 13-1 PAC 8) won its next 16 games to win its third straight league title.
“It’s a lot of pressure having so much success in the last two season, being league champs and going undefeated,” Ortiz said. “I think that took a weight off our chest because we lost, after that there was nothing more to lose."
SLO High almost fell into the same trap against Agoura in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoffs. The Tigers trailed Agoura 2-0 early in the second half before exploding for four second-half goals. The game-winner came from Ortiz.
After an easy win against Redondo Union in the quarterfinals and an overtime win against Sunny Hills in the semifinals, SLO High found itself down 2-0 in the second half again in the finals against Temecula Valley.
Again, Ortiz helped lead them back. Ortiz assisted on two second-half goals by sophomore Angie Crozier to force overtime. SLO High would eventually lose on a golden goal, but it’s a game Ortiz won’t forget.
“The way that we worked so hard to get back in that game, that was the climax of our season,” Ortiz said. “We all worked hard and took what we knew and had been learning throughout the season and used it there. It was unfortunate that we lost, but I think that was one of the best moments of the season.”
For all the goals she scored in difficult game situations and on long free kicks, Ortiz struggled with penalty kicks. She had a chance to redeem herself in the CIF Division 2 Southern Region semifinals against Sunny Hills. SLO High was down 1-0 when they were awarded a PK, and Ortiz stepped up to the ball.
She committed to aiming right, even when she saw the Sunny Hills goalkeeper creep that way. She took the shot, and the ‘keeper made the save. SLO went on to lose, and the season was over.
“I think it was partly nerves because I knew I had to score to tie it,” Ortiz said. “I will probably always have that in the back of my mind.”
Ortiz was heartbroken, but after the game she called her club coach with a request.
“Next training session, we are going to practice PKs,” Ortiz told him.
She also got some encouraging words from SLO High assistant coach and Cal Poly soccer standout Megan Abutin. The leading scorer for Cal Poly this season told Ortiz she had been in that very situation. During her sophomore season at Cal Poly, she missed a penalty kick in a shootout against Long Beach State in the semifinals of the Big West Tournament. But Abutin went on to be one of the best PK shooters on the team, finishing her non-shootout career 5-for-5.
If anyone knows how to turn that part of her game around, it’s Ortiz.
“She is just an overall leader and one of the most inspirational players on the team,” SLO High head coach Brittney Viboch said. “Her work ethic is why she has done so well this year.”
Ortiz didn’t just think about failure when looking back at her junior season. She remembers vividly the way she felt when SLO High beat Sunny Hills in the semifinals of the sectionals on an overtime goal from Emma Ruzius.
“Just seeing everyone hugging, they all have so much energy, it was awesome to see that,” Ortiz said. “This team has been one of my favorites because we are all so close. I made so many new friends. It has been so fun.”