Camp Verde players can't bear to watch as St. Johns girls soccer team poses with the state championship trophy.
Camp Verde girls soccer players didn’t even want to look at it, let alone claim it as their own. Never mind that the award looked exactly like the championship prize – save for the words “2001 runner-up” inscribed one the front.
When you’ve been to the top of the mountain, it’s hard to accept being second-best.
The Cowboys’ drive to repeat as state champions fell just short Saturday afternoon at Tucson’s Udall Park. St. Johns, champions of the Rim Region, slipped in a goal midway through the second half and held on for a 1-0 state title-game victory.
The Redskins claim the second-ever 2A-3A girls soccer crown. Camp Verde’s season ends at 20-3, one more loss than expected.
“I don’t know what to say,” Cowboys coach Loretta Grondin said. “Mike (Reamer, assistant coach) and I are questioning ourselves on what we could have done differently. It just wasn’t meant to be today.”
Camp Verde players sat shell-shocked on their side of the field after the loss. They likely didn’t expect such a result against unheralded St. Johns, which had surprised many observers by beating Payson and Show Low late in the season to win the Rim.
The Redskins didn’t mount much of an offense throughout the title game. Instead, they seemed content to pack it in around Camp Verde forward Chantel Reimer and take their chances with any breakaways they could muster.
The ploy worked. The physical ‘Skins kept Reimer bottled up much of the game, and freshman Nicolette Trickey finished off one of the rare St. Johns forays into Camp Verde territory with a roller down the middle past the keeper.
“With number 15 (Reimer), we knew everything goes through her,” said St. Johns coach Dale Hauser. “If she doesn’t score, she sets someone else up to score. So we marked her throughout.”
Reimer nearly netted the equalizer a few minutes after St. Johns goal on a Camp Verde attack. But the shot clanged off the side bar, and the severe backspin sent it bounding cruelly out of bounds to the right. Had the shot twisted the other way, it likely would have escaped the St. Johns keeper and gone in.
Coach Reamer said he knew St. Johns would put up a fortress-like defense against his team’s potent offense. Reimer, who had 36 goals coming in, had a shadow most of the afternoon. Against Payson the day before, she was able to break loose and score three times. No such luck against St. Johns.
“I thought we could work around them,” coach Reamer said. “But not today.”
There was a sense after the game that Camp Verde took St. Johns too lightly coming in. The Cowboys likely figured once they had beaten Payson 3-0 in the semifinal game, the title bout would be icing.
Players danced to upbeat music just before kickoff and wore big smiles throughout the pre-game festivities. But things grew more serious when St. Johns didn’t buckle as expected.
“We watched them play (Friday), and we thought they played terribly against Sedona,” Grondin said. “That was an error in judgment.”
The Redskins do play a physical style, and that may have taken the Cowboys out of their usual flow. Already frustrated by that, the Cowboys seemed to deflate altogether once St. Johns scored its goal in the second half.
The game proved a bittersweet end to the careers of three Camp Verde seniors. Katelyn Baker, Lauren Clawson and Tabitha Willis. All three played on last year’s state title team and have been mainstays in the program.
Baker, Reimer and sweeper Colleen McCabe earned all-state tournament honors from Camp Verde. Jill O’Banion and Stephanie Lawler made the all-tournament team from Sedona, which finished the season 15-3.
St. Johns, which eliminated Sedona 2-1 in double overtime on Friday, missed the state playoffs last season by one goal, Hauser said. Interesting enough, one goal on Saturday was all they would need to lock up this year’s state title.