SportStars Magazine

Galvanized

When its star player went down, Carondelet didn’t panic — it found new ways to win

Story By CHACE BRYSON | Photos by PHILLIP WALTON

Christmas was only three days removed when the Carondelet High girls soccer team suffered a serious blow to its holiday cheer.

Just five minutes into the Cougars’ Dec. 28 nonleague match at Dublin, star forward Brooke Cilley crumbled to the turf. Through the team’s first seven matches, the Michigan-bound senior had already produced 12 goals and six assists to lead Carondelet to a 7-0 start.

Cilley was diagnosed with the dreaded ACL tear and declared out for the season. Which meant Carondelet had to regroup and assess if their East Bay Athletic League and North Coast Section title hopes were headed to the shelf as well.

“Brooke would’ve been the EBAL MVP this season,” Carondelet coach Amy Apodaca said prior to the Cougars Jan. 14 match against visiting Monte Vista-Danville. “It was a tough hit. There was lots of banter when that happened and what would happen to us.”

It was the perfect storm to send a perfect season off the rails. “When (Brooke) went down, it seemed like everyone freaked out about it,” Cougars senior goalkeeper Kaylie Collins said. “There was a crisis for a few days.”

And then it was over.

Not the season, though. The crisis. “We reminded everyone that we had to snap out of it,” Collins said.

Collins, a terrific USC-bound net minder, urged her teammates to embrace the challenge.

“I hated that we were ranked so high in various polls early in the season,” Collins said. “It just made me feel like there was nowhere to go. I loved being the underdog and proving people wrong. (After Brooke’s injury) I said, ‘This is our chance to do it again. This is going to be our story. We’ll find motivation from this.’”

Fast forward more than a month since the injury, and Carondelet entered February still without a loss on the season. The Cougars entered their Feb. 2 EBAL match at Foothill-Pleasanton with an overall mark of 14-0-3. Their league record of 7-0-3 kept them two points ahead of Monte Vista-Danville.

How did the Cougars keep the ship from capsizing? There’s more than one answer. Leadership is one. In addition to Collins, fellow senior captain Jade Rafallo has also led the resurgence in her own quiet way.

“You don’t know her unless you’re trying to get by her,” Apodaca said of her center back. “She’s just solid.”

Versatility also played a role.

Senior midfielder Chelsea Bailey has been asked to take on multiple positions, and excelled throughout. Senior Madeline Duncan and junior Erin Ospeck have helped fill the scoring void left by Cilley.

“Game to game we’ve changed lineups and changed starters,” Apodaca said. “I think that’s the most amazing thing about this team. It doesn’t have one player to rely on. … It’s just really enjoying playing, and they play with their hearts on their sleeves and just work hard.”

For all of its past success, Carondelet has just two NCS titles in the past 16 seasons. The Cougars were Division I champions in 2011 and Division II champs in 2001. In 2014, they were sent home following a 2-1 quarterfinal loss to Berkeley.

In her fourth year of varsity, Collins is perhaps the most qualified to speak about how this group is better prepared to reach the final.

“There’s been a ton of change over the past few years,” Collins said. “This year, especially, the whole atmosphere is different. Everyone goes out to the field and wants to win 100 percent. Last year was a growing period, and this year we were ready.”

Collins literally fell into goaltending.

“When I first started playing actual soccer, I was always falling down,” Collins said with a giggle. “So my dad (who also played goalie) said, ‘We might as well put you in the goal because you’re falling all the time.’”

Collins has five shutouts over the 16 matches she’s played in. She has 70 saves so far. Her last line of defense has played a huge role in the Cougars unbeaten start.

Back in mid-January, Apodaca was still slightly incredulous with how much the team had come together — despite the injury to Cilley.

“I knew we were going to come back (from 2014) pretty talented.” the coach said. “But a 12-0 start? Who ever thinks that?”

Apparently, each member of the Cougars thought it. And committed — then re-committed — to making their championship aspirations come to fruition.

“After Brooke’s injury, we realized that not one person was going to replace her,” Collins said. “I think we’ve had to work so much harder, and it’s going to be so much more rewarding at the end because of it.”

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