A difficult season got a little harder last Wed., March 20th for the Rancho Cotate Cougars when they lost, 7-4, to their rivals the Cardinal Newman Cardinals in an away league game held at Cardinal Newman High School.
It was the first league game of the Cougars’ season, but not their first loss—not by a long shot. They’re currently sitting at 0-7 for the season. Low recruitment numbers and a swath of graduations shrunk the Cougars’ roster in both age and numbers, which forced Rancho Cotate to fold its varsity and junior varsity teams into one. Much of the starting lineup for the Cougars are freshmen and sophomores, and the league matches them against athletes who are two to three years their senior, meaning their opponents are both larger and more experienced.
It’s an unfortunate combination. The Cougars have struggled this year and the string of losses are beginning to take their toll. Their coach, Tory Hotaling, feared that defeat might become a self-fulfilling prophecy if the losing streak continues for much longer.
“We’ve got to get a win here,” Hotaling said. “We’re right on the edge. I think that once we get the first one it’ll help them turn the corner and get some confidence because the momentum is killing us right now. We’ve got to figure out how to turn this around.”
Despite these disadvantages, the Cougars started the match off strong. They took the early lead in the first quarter with a pair of goals and yielded only a single in turn. It was a slim edge, but it was still an edge, and the Cougars clung to it tenaciously with a stalwart defense that helped shore up for their offense’s lackluster performance.
It was the Cougar goalkeeper, Raymond Nixon, who served as the keystone of his team’s defensive strategy. Throughout the course of the game, Nixon blocked 35 of the Cardinals’ shots on goal—that’s over double the national average of 14. It was an incredible performance and one that preserved the Cougars’ lead through the second quarter.
“We’re definitely coming together. We’re bonding as a team,” Nixon said. “It’s just taking a little longer than we want it to. We’ve got a lot of hurt players right now and that’s killing us.” But then late in the third quarter the Cougars’ small reserve of fresh players began to take its toll. The defenders grew sluggish and slow to respond to the constant press of the Cardinals’ offense.
It was Cardinal Peyton Dove who found the first hole in the Cougars’ defensive pattern. His teammates swirled around the backside while Dove wormed his way up the center. They passed to him. In a flash, Dove took the shot through two Cougar defenders that moved up to stop him, but they were too slow. The ball passed over their shoulders and into the net.
Dove went on to score another three times using versions of the play over the next four minutes of game time before the Cougars could shore up the hole. By then, though, the damage had been done.
The Cardinals had stolen the lead and the game.
“We are young and we’re not executing on offense. It makes us rely on our defense. They’re tired. In these conditions, in this long grass? It’s even worse,” Hotaling said.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, their opponents aren’t going to get any easier. They go up next against the Casa Grande Gauchos Fri., March 29. The Gauchos are currently undefeated this season.