MANGILAO, Guam — Santiago Ortiz knew his team would do well this season. He probably wasn’t expecting this.
The first-year coach of the Guam High girls soccer team had plenty to celebrate Thursday. Guam reached the Independent Interscholastic Athletics Association of Guam tournament final for the first time by beating Notre Dame 3-0 in the semifinals at the University of Guam.
“Awesome! It’s unbelievable,” he said after the Lady Panthers, the tournament’s top seed, reached Saturday’s final, in which they face No. 7 Southern. Southern beat the Academy of Our Lady 3-1 in a penalty-kick shootout Thursday.
It’s the furthest Guam has advanced in the league tournament, surpassing last season’s third-place finish. Ortiz said that history led opponents to believe the Lady Panthers were “not to be taken seriously.”
“Most of the other teams wouldn’t give us the time of day, the respect that we earned,” said Ortiz, a Navy lieutenant assigned as executive officer of Naval Airborne Weapons Maintenance Unit 1 on Guam. “Now it shows. They didn’t think we were the real thing. It took this many games to prove it wasn’t luck — it was hard work and dedication.”
The effort was spearheaded by players such as Valene Taguacta, who has 17 goals, including one Thursday, Christine Ortiz (10 assists) and Christine Chop (10 goals, eight assists). Guam also got a lift this year from a handful of freshmen — Marcelle Ortiz, Sheveada Williams, Stephanie Taguacta and Jade Lanier.
Those newcomers gave Ortiz “a good feeling” heading into the season because they “filled in the holes that needed to be filled in last year.” Goalkeeper Jessica Charles, fullbacks Annie Bell and Jessica Ruiz, stopper Jacqueline Cassidy and sweeper Menchie Dacara formed the nucleus of a dominant defense, Ortiz said.
“It’s been a team effort. All 11 of them have complemented each other well this year,” Ortiz said.
“And a lot of dedication, from the start of the season, the girls have shown great dedication.”
The results have been spectacular.
“I’m still dumbfounded,” Ortiz added.
“If you asked me me at the beginning of the season where we would be at, to be 13-0, scoring 61 goals and only three goals against us, it’s unbelievable. I’d have never thought that from the beginning of the season.”