Coaches and players hate to lose.
But for Davis High School coach Allen Carlson and his Blue Devils, their only loss in 26 matches this season may have been the spark that propelled them to today's Sac-Joaquin Section Division I girls soccer championship.
The Blue Devils beat rival St. Francis 1-0 in overtime at Cosumnes Oaks High School to win their first girls section soccer title since 2007 and fourth overall. It also avenged a penalty-kick loss to St. Francis in last season's D-I final.
Franklin beat Davis 1-0 in a Delta Valley Conference match on May 3, the last match of the regular season.
The loss had come a few weeks after Davis had been annoited the No. 1 team in the nation by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. (24-1-1 Davis is now No. 3.)
"I think that loss did take a little pressure off of us," Carlson said. "We no longer had to worry about going undefeated or being No. 1."
That defeat, followed by a 2-1 overtime win over Sheldon in the second round of the playoffs, only reinforced in the players' minds that they couldn't live by reputation alone.
"The loss put us in the mind-set that we aren't superior to anyone else," said junior captain Courtney Jimenez. "It let us know that we needed to work harder if we wanted to win sections."
That tenacity and intensity were on full display against St. Francis in what was mostly a physical, grinder of a game - with one huge exception.
Davis junior striker Anna Gilbertson would generate a buzz in the crowd just about every time she touched the ball.
Her footwork, moves, 'tude and willingness to challenge multiple defenders kept St. Francis' players constantly on their heels trying to contain her.
She never scored. But she was most responsible for the game's only goal.
After juking a defender and finding a tiny seam on the left side, she luanched a 17-yard rocket that hit the right post.
It landed almost at the feet of Jimenez in front of the goal. She easily knocked it in for the winner.
"I just happened to be in the right place at the right time," Jimenez said. "Anna had an excellent shot that I thought was going to go in, but it bounced back and came my way. I couldn't believe it."
But senior defender and co-captain Ali Yule could.
Beating St. Francis and winning a section title were the goals from Day 1. Until they defeated the Troubadours 1-0 in the St. Mary's Classic Feb. 26, the Blue Devils hadn't defeated St. Francis since 2007. That's before any of the current players were at the school.
"We've lost to those girls so many times in club and high school," Yule said. "That's why we kept telling each other: This is our our last chance, our last opportunity."
For St. Francis it was a missed chance to add to a section-best 12 titles, including seven in the previous eight years.
"Credit Allen and Davis, they had a great season," said St. Francis coach Rick Carrigan. "You want the championship game to be a good game, and I thought it was a pretty good game.
"I told the girls, 'Hey we stayed with the (No. 3) team in the nation.' If anything, I think we might have run out of gas at the end.
"We had a tough game on Thursday (a 1-0 road win over St. Mary's in Stockton), so getting here took a little out of us. But the important thing is we were here again, and we hope to be here again next year."
Don't be surprised if Davis and the incomparable Gilbertson is there, too.
- Bill Paterson