Willow Canyon cannot get untracked in playoff loss

Willow Canyon lost to Ironwood Ridge Tuesday night in a 5A state girls soccer first round game at Oro Valley. [Daniel Gaona/For West Valley Preps]

By Daniel Gaona
Special to West Valley Preps

TUCSON – Willow Canyon’s Allison “Rose” Veloz made a name for herself this season as one of the state’s most feared girls soccer players as she tormented defenses match after match.

The junior striker logged a hat trick just last week to send the Wildcats onto the state playoffs, but Veloz was left watching for the most part as they saw their season come to an end Tuesday night.

Second-seeded Ironwood Ridge cruised past #15 Willow Canyon for a 4-0 in the opening round of the 5A state tournament. Veloz had her touches limited throughout the match as I-Ridge controlled possession for the majority of the time and the visiting Wildcats struggled to find an offensive rhythm.

“Just from the beginning we didn’t really step to the ball first and didn’t communicate,” said Veloz, who finished the season with 39 goals. “Once we got a feel for them and once we started feeling ourselves it was kind of too late.”

I-Ridge, a state semifinalist last year, attacked the goal from the start Tuesday night and netted two early goals within four minutes of each other. The first came on a breakaway in the 15th minute by Isabella Santavicca and the next came in the 19th minute from Alyssa Kopach, but the Wildcats were left looking for an off-sides call on each of the two scores.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t generate a third of the offense I would have liked to see,” Willow Canyon coach Kendra Melbye said. “It’s tough to win games when all you’re doing is playing a defensive battle.

“I think if we had played a little more sound together as a team it could have been a different outcome, particularly in the first half. We beat ourselves and we let the refs get in our head.”

Willow Canyon appeared to finally get some offense going early in the second half but Kopach slipped through the defense to score her second goal of the match and give the Nighthawks a 3-0 lead.

Things began to get a little sloppy from there, as a slew of players received yellow cards. Among them was Willow Canyon goal keeper Akela Patterson, who was penalized twice in a matter of minutes for contact and grossed a red card. That set up a penalty kick for the Nighthawks, which pushed their lead to 4-0.

Senior defender Julia Stangler filled in between the posts for the remainder of the match, and came up with a save on another Ironwood Ridge penalty kick to keep the Nighthawks from extending their lead.

Stangler is one of five seniors the Wildcats will lose next season, but she’s also leaving a legacy behind: This marked the fourth straight year Willow Canyon was in the state tournament.

“It was a great experience to come into high school and be part of a great team all four years, just setting that standard every year to go to the playoffs,” Stnagler said. “That is going to be something I remember all throughout life, that I got to be a part of four teams that got to go to playoffs.”

As for next season, it’s simple for Veloz: She wants to do even better.

“I want to beat my goals from this year,” Veloz said, “and make it past the first round or second round of the playoffs.”

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