By CHRISTIAN MORTENSEN
Coming off a successful year in 2016, in which the Aztecs finished with a record of 16-6-1 and reached the NJCAA Region 1 Final, 16-year Pima Community College head coach Kendra Veliz has high expectations heading into the new season.
“Considering how we finished last year, losing in the regional final to the eventual national champions, I do have high expectations for this group,” she said.
Pima is relying heavily on an experienced group of returning players this season, particularly in the defensive backline where three out of the four positions feature starters from last year’s starting eleven. There are 11 total returning sophomores from last year’s team.
Aug. 22: No. 20 PCC 1, No. 1 Paradise Valley CC 2
In a rematch of the 2016 NJCAA Region 1 Final, Pima dropped their season opener, 2-1 to defending national champions Paradise Valley.
The Aztecs played well against the No. 1 team in the country, especially in the first half where sophomore forward Alexis Hernandez twice came close to putting Pima in front.
After going into halftime 0-0, it was a nightmare start to the second half for Pima as they found themselves trailing 1-0 three minutes into the period. In the 70th minute, Paradise Valley took a 2-0 lead.
After conceding the second goal, Pima continued to look for a lifeline back into the game and found one in the 86th minute when sophomore Taylor Inocencio scored off an assist from Hernandez to make it 2-1.
The next four minutes had the Aztecs desperately looking to salvage a draw, but the team couldn’t hit its mark.
Coach Veliz felt good about the way her team competed against the top-ranked team in the country.
“It’s a tough way to start, but the good news is I think we showed we can play with anybody,” she said.
Aug. 26: No. 20 PCC 4, South Mountain CC 2
In their first away game of the season, the Aztecs picked up their first win, beating the South Mountain Cougars, 4-2.
Pima dominated play in the first half, controlling most of the possession and registering 14 shots on goal.
The Aztecs took the lead in the 17th minute through sophomore forward Jahmonique Smith, when she rocketed her first goal of the season into the back of the net from the top of the 18-yard box.
The teams went into halftime with the scoreboard still reading only 1-0, despite Pima’s dominance. Coach Veliz wasn’t content with the slim halftime lead and urged her side to
“play better soccer” during her halftime team talk.
The Aztecs came out flying to start the second half, and three minutes into the period the Aztecs found themselves up 2-0.
It was the sophomore Alexis Hernandez first goal of the new season. Four minutes later, Pima had the ball in the back of the South Mountain net again, after freshman Paola Reuda-Flores scored her first goal of the year in the 52nd minute.
After the third goal, the match looked to be over, but South Mountain rallied to score two goals in the minutes directly after going down 3-0.
The game settled down after the score went to 3-2, when Pima again began to show their superiority, just as they had done in the first half. Freshman Marissa Cordero secured the win for the Aztecs when she scored in the 72nd minute to restore Pima’s two-goal advantage.
“Playing on the road is a little different and can be a challenge at first, this was a good experience for our girls moving forward,” Veliz said.
Aug. 29: No. 20 Pima CC 3, Phoenix College 4
In their second consecutive away game, the Aztecs lost 4-3 to the Phoenix College Bears.
The Aztecs led 3-1 in the 80th minute, only to see the Bears score three goals in the final 10 minutes of play, including the game-winning goal with under a minute left on the game clock. It was a stunning collapse from nationally ranked Pima who up until the last 10 minutes had controlled most of the game.
Hernandez scored in the second consecutive game, opening the scoring in the 37th minute. She then added to her tally just two minute later to give the Aztecs a 2-0 lead in the 39th minute. They were Hernandez’s second and third goals of the 2017 season.
Phoenix did manage to grab a goal back before halftime, and the teams went into the break with a score of 2-1.
The beginning of the second half was positive for Pima, and when freshman Taylor Reinhart scored in the 52nd minute to restore the Aztec’s two-goal lead, it seemed the Aztecs would be able to leave Phoenix with the win in hand.
The Bears, had other plans.
After almost a half-hour of back-and-forth play, Phoenix scored in the 82nd minute to get back into the game and had a stunning equalizer six minutes later in the 87th minute. They completed the comeback when they scored again with just 46 seconds left on the game clock to make it 4-3.
After the loss Pima dropped to 1-2-0, while Phoenix moved to 3-0-0.
Sept. 1: No. 20: Pima CC 2, Cochise College 1
Pima returned home after two straight road games and took on the Cochise College Apaches, where the Aztecs came back from an early deficit to claim a dramatic overtime victory.
Tensions were high even before kickoff, as Cochise initially refused to take the
pitch because of a problem with Pima’s home jerseys. NJCAA rules state that home jerseys must be “predominantly white,” and while the Aztecs’ jerseys do feature white, they also have a large amount of orange, which initially was making the Cochise Head Coach feel uncomfortable to play against. He argued that because his side was wearing all-red jerseys, they might get confused by Pima’s orange.
The match was delayed 10 minutes as the coaches from both teams argued with one another and the referees tried to figure out what should be done. The Cochise head coach ultimately relented and play started, with tensions raised, at 7:10 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.
Once the match was under way, it was a poor start for the Aztecs as they found themselves down 1-0 in just the third minute.
Things began to look even more bleak for Pima when freshman Kylee Martin was shown a straight red card 20 minutes later, after throwing a Cochise player to the ground. Pima supporters, players and coaches were furious at the referee’s decision, claiming that the throw was in reaction to a punch thrown by the Cochise player, which hit Martin in the face. The referee ignored the Aztecs’ pleas and play resumed with tensions even higher.
The frustration was mounting for the Aztecs, who were dominating the game but found themselves down both a player and goal in the first 25 minutes of the game. The Aztecs continued to look dangerous after Martin was sent off and were finally rewarded for their domination when Hernandez equalized in the 36th minute to score her fourth goal of the year and for the third consecutive game.
The teams went into halftime with the score still even at 1-1 and with everything to play for in the second half.
Pima continued to dominate the game when play restarted but couldn’t break through the solid Cochise defense. The score remained 1-1 until late in the game, and Pima’s frustrations only continued when they finally had the ball in the back of the net in the 86th minute, seemingly snatching a late-winning goal, only to see the goal taken off the scoreboard due to an offsides call.
Neither side could break the tie before the end of regulation, and the teams went to overtime with the scoreline still reading 1-1.
With the golden goal rule in effect, whichever team scored first in the overtime period would win the game. If neither team scored in the 20 minutes, the game would end in a draw.
Hernandez came up big for the Aztecs again when she scored in the 106th minute off a corner kick to win the game for Pima.
It was Hernandez’s fifth goal of the season and sealed her second game in a row where the sophomore scored two goals. With the win, Pima improved to 2-2-0 on the season.
After the game, a smiling Hernandez felt good about the win.
“The whole team just wanted it really bad,” she said. “It was a team effort and it feels great to be able to help the team win.”