Liberty girls overwhelm Centennial in first meeting of longtime teammates

Liberty junior Skye McMillan (#15), sophomore Gracie Bland (#19), junior Maya Lorenzana (#9) and junior Aria Echols (#12) celebrate a goal in the Lions 6-1 victory against Centennial Jan. 10. [Megan Hintz/Special to West Valley Preps]

Jennifer Jimenez
For West Valley Preps

Anyone who knows Arizona high school soccer knows the name Jack Altersitz.

He captured six state titles for Cactus, the first of which included the names Kyle Pooler and Steve Ybarra on the roster. Both are head varsity girls’ soccer coaches, now at rival schools after many years at Centennial. Pooler leads the Liberty Lions and Ybarra the Centennial Coyotes.

After playing together, they worked on the same staff while Pooler was the boys head coach and Ybarra the assistant coach.

“He really wanted a varsity position and he started looking and I said well you are going to have this one because I don’t want it anymore and you are going to have this one because I don’t want you to leave the school,” Pooler said. “So, then he took over the varsity program on the boy’s side. And then eight years later I came back and took it back.”

Ybarra said he needed a break from coaching, but he wasn’t gone for long, two years later he coached Mr. Pooler’s daughter, Kenedee. That was two seasons ago, and Pooler left to teach at Liberty. He did not coach last year, but is in his first year as the Lions girls head coach, as well as a football assistant.

Their rivalry match-up on Wednesday was the first time they ever coached against each other. And with the match over, they’ll continue to give each other evaluations on teams and have fun.

“It is different, but in the end, we are going to hang out and we have a long history with each other,” Pooler said.

And with their first meeting in the books, Pooler’s team prevailed. Liberty defeated Centennial 6-1. Seventeen minutes in, senior Payton Younger scored on a second attempt, after the Centennial keeper makes the first save and their defense failed on the clearance, putting Liberty (9-3-1 overall, 1-0 region) up 1-0.

Junior Skye McMillan scored the second goal near post to put her team up 2-0, just six minutes later. Gracie Bland added the third goal on a shot just outside of the 18-yard-box.

While Centennial struggled to maintain possession, they were able to add a goal of their own on a shot from Alexis Williams, leaving the Coyotes behind 3-1 heading into halftime.

Ten minutes into the second half, McMillan added her second on a ball from Younger and then McMillan assisted Maya Lorenzana for the fifth goal.

Pooler said his team has a lot of speed up top and trying to find the space for those girls is crucial to their success.

“When we can get them the ball in space it creates things for us,” Pooler said. “The girls are very unselfish, and they want to make sure our team is taken care of.”

He said when his team put pressure on the defense, that opened up everyone else and the girls have shown a lot of improvement in that area. The Coyotes have a mix of club and non-club players and Ybarra said he is proud of the work his team is putting in.

“We have worked out way and keep fighting for a spot in the playoffs and that is positive,” he said. “When we go up against talented teams like Liberty, we cannot make those critical mistakes we made tonight and give up goals. But we’re working and the team knows how close we are.”

Centennial freshman Alexis Williams tries to get past Liberty junior Shea Byrne Jan. 10 at Liberty. [Megan Hintz/For West Valley Preps]

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