Coming off only three combined wins over the previous two seasons, an unbeaten run to the CIF-SS Division 5 Championship didn’t seem possible for the San Marcos High girls’ soccer team.
But first year head coach Brian “Ziggy” Ziegenhagen orchestrated a miraculous turnaround and took the Royals from worst to first in the Channel League in a transformation straight out of a Hollywood movie.
“It’s fun to coach talented girls who have the desire and love to play at the next level,” Ziegenhagen said Friday immediately after San Marcos’s 1-0 victory over Paraclete in the CIF Championship game. “I’m really proud of them.”
The vast majority of the players who contributed to the 16-0 season and starred in the Championship game were on the team when they only won one game. Talent was never really the issue, but a desire to persevere through the COVID-19 pandemic and a shift in culture paid dividends for the Royals on the pitch.
“We just had a higher intensity level, and with our new captains, we just picked up our game,” said leading goal scorer Sofia Orozco. “We wanted to win this season since it was our last year. Even COVID-19 couldn’t stop us.”
For every high school team in California, the pandemic presented significant obstacles that limited player development and team building in ways that are only just beginning to be understood. But what is clear is that the teams who found success in spite of the chaos had strong leaders who made sacrifices with no guarantee of even having a season.
“We just kept pushing,” Orozco said. “Even before we got our team together, people were going on runs.”
That desire to win showed up throughout San Marcos’s run in the CIF playoffs, which included several tough matches, including a quarterfinal match against Pasadena-Marshall that went to penalty kicks, and a 1-0 double overtime victory over South Pasadena.
In the championship game against Paraclete, the Royals were once again locked in a tight contest until Rebecca Rodriguez and Caroline Mikkelson combined to break the scoreless tie off a corner kick.
“We’ve had a losing season the past two years. The fact that we came out and actually won it all feels so crazy,” Mikkelson said. “The majority of these girls have been playing together since they were like 5. We are super close, and we have an awesome coach that knows how to motivate us.”
On defense, San Marcos compiled 11 shutouts through 16 games and has consistently succeeded at taking the opposing attack out of rhythm. Paige Ingram and Julianna Alaniz were stalwarts on the back line and came up big to hold Paraclete without a goal in the biggest match of the season.
“I was pretty nervous starting the game because we’ve never played against a team like this before, and it was our first time going to the CIF finals since 2006,” Alaniz said. “I was so nervous, but I kept my ground and I had my backup defense covering me.”
Girls’ soccer is one of many athletic programs at San Marcos that have shined during this COVID-19 school year. The Royals have captured 13 Channel League titles this season across their athletic programs, representing unprecedented success.
Beach Town Showdown
The Santa Barbara High boys’ volleyball team will look to punctuate an unbeaten season with a CIF-SS Southern Section Division 2 Championship. The Dons (14-0) will host Huntington Beach in a matchup of two of the most revered boys’ volleyball programs in Southern California history on Saturday, June 5, at 5 p.m.
Twenty-nine years ago, Santa Barbara head coach Chad Arneson was a freshman on the 1992 team that defeated Huntington Beach in a CIF final, and he is thrilled that the two programs have come full circle.
“I think it’s pretty special that we have two beach towns that get to play against each other for a little bragging rights,” Arneson said. “We’re playing with a lot of confidence. The semifinals against Beckman was definitely one of our best performances, so I’m hoping we can duplicate that.”