The UC Merced women’s soccer team showed maturity beyond its years Thursday afternoon.
Despite a dominating opening 45 minutes against visiting Embry-Riddle, the Bobcats entered intermission trailing by two goals.
Facing its first adversity of the young season, the Bobcats stormed back for a 3-2 California Pacific Conference-opening victory over the Eagles at Lake Field.
“To be honest, I wasn’t sure how we were going to react because we were down at halftime,” Bobcats coach Megan Antoigue said. “I just tried to stay positive. I tried to point out how they dominated the first half.
“I told them after that I was more proud of them coming back from a 2-0 hole than if we’d gone out and won the game 3-0, because it showed true character.”
The Bobcats (4-0, 1-0 Cal Pac) outshot Embry-Riddle (2-5, 0-1) 12-7 and had eight shots on goal to three in the first half. But UCM got caught sleeping while setting up its wall for a Chelsea Page free kick in the 27th minute, surrendering the first goal of the season on a quick kick. Kalyn Goodenough doubled the tally just before intermission, beating the Bobcats with her pace on a through ball.
A season ago, the outcome would have been determined at halftime, but this season’s Bobcats showed they possess more grit.
Merced’s answer came in a flurry, tying the game with two goals 28 seconds apart.
Veronica Villacorta got UC Merced on the board, roofing goalkeeper Abby Couto (14 saves) in the 52nd minute. Daisy Bonilla tied it 28 seconds later when she collected an Elizabeth Cruz cross at the top of the 18-yard box and fired to the far post.
“Last season, there was no chance we come back in that game,” Bonilla said. “We would have put our heads down and that would have been it. This year, we believe more.
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“Even though we were still pretty down at halftime, I knew if we scored one, we were going to get a second. And I believed if we got a second, we’d score a third.”
The school’s all-time leading scorer provided the winner.
Junior Claudia Diaz stole the ball in the Eagles’ defensive third and then made an excellent move, cutting to her left just outside of the 18. Diaz unloaded a left-footed blast to the far post, making it 3-2 Bobcats in the 69th minute.
The defense took care of the rest as goalkeeper Maggie Morales was required to make just two saves.
UC Merced 4, Embry-Riddle 3 – It was an afternoon of comebacks for the UC Merced soccer teams as the men rallied twice at home to beat the two-time defending Cal Pac champions.
Cody Golbad scored two goals, including the game-winner in the 85th minute. Marco Torralva and Cruz Trenado each finished with a goal and an assist for the Bobcats (4-1, 1-0 Cal Pac).
Goalkeeper Heriberto Diaz made two saves.