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Girls soccer: Bulldogs set new winning standard

May 15—MOUNT PLEASANT — It took over a decade for the Ottumwa High School girls soccer team to finish a season without suffering 10 or more losses.

After enduring nine seasons in which the Bulldogs lost at least 11 matches, Ottumwa very nearly achieved a milestone last spring coming within one win of achieving the program's first winning season. The Mount Pleasant Panthers, however, spoiled Ottumwa's opportunity to accomplish that feat in their home finale upending the Bulldogs 2-1 at Schafer Stadium.

Ottumwa was seeking more than just redemption on Monday at East Lake Park. The Bulldogs were seeking to achieve a new milestone for success by reaching double figures in wins for the first time in a single season.

One call, and one ensuing shot, allowed Ottumwa to finally secure the program's first winning season. Mia Garza-Trejo scored on a free kick with just over 28 minutes left after Ilana Vasconez drew a red card that left Mount Pleasant short-handed in the rematch between the southeast Iowa programs nearly a full year in the making.

The tiebreaking goal by Garza-Trejo, and a hat trick by Vasconez, lifted Ottumwa to a 4-2 win in the penultimate match of the regular season. Despite suffering a 5-2 Iowa Alliance Conference loss on Tuesday at Des Moines Lincoln, the Bulldogs have already clinched a winning record for the year by securing 10 wins in a season for the first time in the history of the program.

"It's nothing that was ever given to them. The girls have worked hard for every minute, every goal, every assist and every win," Ottumwa head girls soccer coach Matthew Erlandson said. "It's finally the culmination for our seniors for all the time they've put in since they were little. There were a lot of girls that had to be brought up as underclassmen that had to play and play new positions.

"We all expected this to happen this season. We've had some rough patches and a rocky start. It could be easy to get down on yourself and under-perform. It's much hard to over-perform. I feel like these girls have done that."

Ottumwa was trying to avoid the same near miss that occurred last year. The home loss to Mount Pleasant was the second straight 2-1 defeat during a season-ending three-match losing streak as the Bulldogs missed out on three straight chances to clinch the program's first winning season, finishing 7-7 with a 10-0 regional semifinal loss at Waukee.

The Bulldogs, after an 0-3 start to this season, came to Mount Pleasant on Monday having missed out on chances to clinch a winning record after suffering consecutive shutout loss to Marshalltown and Cedar Rapids Jefferson. Just like last year, the Panthers had their sights set on knocking off Ottumwa answering an early goal by Vasconez by scoring on a pair of breakaways by Charice Auwerda and Tori Wilson in a span of four-plus minutes, giving Mount Pleasant a 2-1 lead.

"We had a lot of great opportunities and great shots. We just weren't placing them well early," Erlandson said. "We had a few defensive breakdowns as well, but I knew it was just a matter of time before we'd start to find the back of the net with our chances."

Despite doubling up the Panthers on total shots in the first half, Ottumwa still trailed on the scoreboard with less than three minutes left before halftime. Vasconez, however, would erase that lead with one long shot beating Mount Pleasant sophomore goal keeper Eli Heaton on a strike across her body to the middle of the net with 2:14 left in the half, tying the match at 2-2.

"It meant a lot to get that goal," Vasconez said. "Going into halftime tied instead of behind, it feels like the talks you have with your teammates are more encouraging."

While Vasconez scored three goals in Monday's match, it was the goal she didn't score that might have made the biggest difference in the match. Still tied entering the 53rd minute, Vasconez looked to track down a long pass that was headed towards the Mount Pleasant box.

Vasconez, Heaton and Mount Pleasant junior Sonya Simon all raced towards the ball. The result was a collision as Vasconez was knocked down by Simon, drawing a red card that sent the Panther midfielder to the bench and left Mount Pleasant short-handed for the rest of the match.

"Big calls like that really do change how the game goes," Vasconez said. "It created a big swing and allowed us to be more aggressive with our attack."

Any hope the Panthers (7-6) had to keep the match tied despite playing one player down was immediately dashed by Ottumwa's all-time leading goal scorer. Garza-Trejo banged her 23rd goal of the season off the post on a free kick just outside the box, putting the Bulldogs ahead 3-2.

"I heard Matthew on the sidelines telling me to take it, so I took it," Garza-Trejo said. "I think getting the lead and being up a player all made us more comfortable. We didn't feel like we were in a must-score situation. We could focus on playing our game."

Ottumwa turned the final 20 minutes of the match into something of a coronation for the program's first winning season, finishing with 40 shots including 25 in the second half. Vasconez finally put things away by polishing off a hat trick, scoring her 17th goal of the season with 9:53 left to double Ottumwa's lead.

"I think it means a lot to show just how much the Ottumwa girls soccer program has grown over the years," Vasconez said. "We're just going to keep getting better."

Garza-Trejo scored her 24th goal of the season on Tuesday at Mediacom Stadium in a loss to the Railsplitters that determined second place in the Iowa Alliance Conference's south division behind Des Moines Roosevelt. Jhiara Garcia Monzon added a goal for the Bulldogs while Jadyn Hallgren added an assist as the Bulldogs finished the regular-season with a school-record 58 goals scored, another mark set by a program that had lost 99 of 120 matches over the span of eight years including a 4-13 record in Erlandson's first season at the helm of the program and Garza-Trejo's sophomore season on the field.

"It's nice to be on the winning side of things instead of the losing side," Garza-Trejo said. "We've been getting better each year, which has been really nice."

Ottumwa opens postseason play at Johnston for the Class 3A regional semifinals next Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.