The 2018 5A girls soccer playoffs are under way and the top-ranked Notre Dame Preparatory Saints made an early case for winning its third state championship in four years.
The Saints beat down No. 16 Shadow Ridge High School 6–0 Tuesday, Jan. 30 at home. That win moves them to a quarterfinal matchup against No. 8 Campo Verde High School Saturday, Feb. 3.
This quarterfinals will be a rematch from Jan. 6 where NDP won 2–1 in Gilbert. At that time, Campo Verde was 3–10 but went on a seven-match winning streak since then.
During the Jan. 30 match, NDP scored two goals in the opening four minutes. Despite a barrage of shots for the rest of the half, the Saints were unable to break past Shadow Ridge freshman goalkeeper Hannah Redwood.
That breakthrough came midway through the second half and NDP scored four goals in the final 21 minutes of the match. Forward Alexa Clatt led the way with two goals.
NDP Head Coach Tom White said he thought his team got complacent in the first half and didn’t take advantage of rebounds off the goalkeeper.
This was a good teaching moment, Coach White said, because he believes his team will face moments like this throughout the tournament.
“Teams like this will battle,” he said after the match. “Everyone will give us their best shot. When you’re No. 1 in the rankings, you’re going to get everyone’s best because they want to knock off No. 1.”
The Saints come into the playoffs with a 4–0 record in region, a region that contains No. 4 Arcadia and No. 3 Chaparral high schools. Chaparral also comes in as the defending state champions.
Arcadia squeaked past No. 13 Verrado High School 2–1 and Chaparral defeated No. 14 Mountain View High School of Marana.
If all goes according to script, NDP could see Arcadia in the semifinals. The Saints also could see Chaparral in the finals but the Firebirds would have to have to beat No. 2 Ironwood Ridge High School to get there.
Coach White said he does see a benefit to playing a hard schedule, which is why he tries to schedule tough teams throughout the season.
“When you play difficult teams like that, it does prepare you,” he said.
Last year, Chaparral, NDP and Arcadia were the top three teams in the tournament. Arcadia, then the No. 3 team, knocked off the then-No. 2 team NDP.
Midfielder Luciana Garcia-Reifkohl, who scored against Shadow Ridge, said that loss to Arcadia has become motivation for this year’s run.
“Last year was devastating,” she said after the match. “It really hit us hard, but it definitely was necessary because it got our heads in the game and makes us want it even more.”
The Saints also enter the playoffs with a wealth of experience. There are 15 seniors on roster according to maxpreps.com who have two state championships to their names and who all remember last year’s loss.
These experiences, Garcia-Reifkohl said, have affected the team and the way it approaches the upcoming postseason.
“It makes us stay humble, it makes us want it more because of our loss last year and it makes us want the state,” she said. “We want it all.”
Coming into the postseason, NDP is averaging about 3.6 goals per match. Defensively, the Saints are staunch, allowing less than half a goal per match.
The NDP defense has also contributed 12 shutouts including three consecutive over the past three matches. Only once have the Saints allowed more than one goal in a match, a 2–0 loss to Pinnacle High School.
Shadow Ridge Head Coach John Gray said what he saw that made the Saints so dominant was their first touches on the ball.
“Whether it’s a first-touch pass or a first-touch settle, I might have seen three bad first-touches from them all game,” he said after the match.
Along with these strengths, Coach White said there’s still room to improve.
Specifically, Coach White said he thought his team struggled with set pieces — plays off corner kicks and free kicks — more against Shadow Ridge than it has all season.
In order to improve this ahead of the next match, Coach White said his team will practice them a lot in practice to improve muscle memory. He said this will be his approach for the rest of the playoffs on any improvements needed.
“A lot of this in playoffs is you have pressure on you,” he said. “Whether you put it upon your players or players put it on themselves, it’s always there. (The goal is) for them to deal with it and to calm themselves on the ball and to let the game come to them.”
The 5A playoffs run through Saturday, Feb. 10 with the finals being at Campo Verde High School in Gilbert. The semifinals are slated for Thursday, Feb. 8.