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A businesslike mood prevailed at Guam High on Monday as the Panthers girls soccer team went through its paces.

Barely 50 hours had passed since the wild celebration, complete with the obligatory Gatorade shower for coach Santiago Ortiz, in the wake of the Panthers’ 5-0 victory over Southern Black in the island championship game a few miles away at the University of Guam.

“We can’t throttle back,” Ortiz said of his team, which has compiled a 14-0 record and a 66-3 goal margin. “We don’t have time to slack off. No time to celebrate. Just have to keep on working.”

No sooner had the Panthers won the island championship, it’s first in any girls sport in its six-year history, that Ortiz immediately began to lay the groundwork for the team’s next goal.

In less than four weeks, they head to Camp Zama, Japan, for the Far East Class AA Tournament — a title Ortiz feels could also be within his team’s grasp, if it maintains its current path.

“We’re looking forward to Far East,” Ortiz said. “We intend to do better this time around.”

Guam finished third last season.

Until this season, Guam had pretty much served as a doormat for the rest of the Independent Interscholastic Athletics Association of Guam since the school’s doors opened in 1997.

Every team at Guam has had to overcome long odds to be competitive. The 2001 cross country team was the only other group to win an island championship.

The students at the other IIAAG schools live permanently on the island, but Guam High’s students stay for one to three years, then transfer to another location with their military families.

“They know each other, know each other’s moves, know how to play together and establish a team spirit,” Guam High principal Maria Rubio said. “Half our teams are usually new every year.”

Then there’s the disparity between the IIAAG’s sports seasons and the Department of Defense Education Activity-Pacific’s Far East activities calendar.

The IIAAG’s girls soccer season is in February and March, while the Far East tournament is slated for April 28-May 2. Conversely, the IIAAG’s girls basketball season is in April and May; the Far East tournament is in February.

Such scheduling conflicts occasionally force students to make tough choices. Five soccer players who also play basketball decided to stick with the pitch, leaving Guam High to send an inexperienced basketball team, with mostly ninth and 10th graders, to Far East in February on Okinawa.

“It was going to be difficult for them,” Rubio said. “We want all kids to participate in as many sports and Far East activities as they can. Some of the girls made a choice and decided to stick with soccer. It turned out in a very, very good way for them.”

“You have to make choices,” said one of those players, senior striker Valene Taguacta. “I’m glad of the choices we made.”

“The results bear it out,” added Christine Chop, a senior striker, noting that the soccer team would have lacked several of its key players during the basketball tournament week. “We had practiced really hard. That would have messed things up. It’s a good thing we stayed.”

From the start of the season, Taguacta, Chop, their teammates and Ortiz felt they had something special on their hands, particularly since the returning players were so determined to improve on last year.

“We were a little disappointed” after last season, Ortiz said. “We figured we could do a bit better, take it to the end.” He had confidence in his offense, led by Taguacta (18 goals, four assists), Chop (10, 8) and Ortiz’s daughter Christine (13, 10), and a defense led by sweeper Jacqueline Cassidy and goalkeeper Jessica Charles.

What concerned Santiago Ortiz was the inexperience of his midfielders. He inserted a handful of freshmen, coming up from the middle school program, into the midfield, with smashing results.

Game after game, the team kept getting stronger, he said, until sweeping through the playoffs and winning its quarterfinal, semifinal and title matches — the last by a 14-0 margin.

Perhaps Ortiz’s biggest worry was the team’s habit of waiting until the second half to seal matches — a pattern which the Panthers shattered in Saturday’s final.

On Saturday, “They came out with guns loaded, determined to end it early.”

Demeanor, above everything else, impressed Ortiz most about his team.

“We win with humility and lose with grace. That’s my motto,” he said. “It didn’t matter who made a goal. It took the effort of all 11 players out there. They knew that. It was all a team effort. No stars but all stars.”

As one, they kept up their paces Monday, with their next goal in mind.

“We’re all geared up to get back out there,” said Annie Bell, who played on last year’s team at Far East.

It won’t be easy, Bell acknowledged, knowing that Okinawa powers Kadena and Kubasaki have dominated Far East, winning all three girls Class AA titles, Kadena in 1998 and 2000 and Kubasaki last year, since the tournament’s inception in 1998.

“They really are awesome. But this year, we’ve got some really good players, some freshmen who really are good. I really think we have a chance to do really well,” Bell said.

Chop and sisters Christine and Marcelle Ortiz have been selected to the Guam national team that will compete in Thailand in the Asian Under-19 championships. They leave April 14 and return just before Far East.

“We’re training our hardest,” added Christine Ortiz. “We don’t want to take a break. We don’t want to get out of the groove. Next week is our spring break, but we want to continue, as a team. We have a very good chance of doing extremely well at Far East.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.
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