It doesn’t matter how physically gifted some athletic teams are, if the heart is missing — or there’s no courage (soul if you will) — then those programs are forever known for their unfilled potential.
This week, when the Sac-Joaquin Section girls soccer tournament begins for Davis High, three Blue Devil captains stand tall — seniors Ali Yule and Kilie Engelhardt and junior Courtney Jimenez — refusing to allow their teammates to do anything but play their very best.
This rare combination of gifted performers and heart and soul has helped the DHS girls fashion a 21-1-1 record, win a Delta Valley Conference title and, for a time, sit atop the national prep rankings.
Now, when Will C. Wood visits Thursday at 3:30 p.m. on Yudin Field, the local powerhouse lays it all on the line: Section title or bust.
“I definitely thought (the season) was going to be something special based on the girls we had and the camaraderie we had together,” midfielder Jimenez explains. “We’ve grown up together, played together — AYSO, select, here — I knew everyone personally and how great they were, on and off the field.”
The stars seem aligned for Davis.
It enters the postseason seeded No. 1. After receiving a first-round bye, the Devils’ arch-rival St. Francis is safely tucked away in the other half of the bracket. DHS’ first opponent, Wood, is a school that it beat, 5-0, on March 10.
Furthermore, the Wildcats had to survive a tough 2-2 tie against Ponderosa on Tuesday. Wood won on penalty kicks.
So, given a shocking 1-0 loss to Franklin last week in the DVC finale, what’s ahead for Blue Devil coach Allen Carlson’s 14th edition?
“I think we’ll win this thing,” forward Engelhardt said, a certain determination in her eyes and voice that has helped her and her teammates navigate the best schools the region could throw their way. “I think if you don’t go in thinking you deserve something, you’re not going to get it.”
Yule nodded in agreement:
“If you’re willing to work as hard as we have, with the talent we have, it’s going to come down to how bad we want it … how we’re stepping up, (handling) the hard details. We all want it.”
So what’s been the defining moment for these Devils? Yule answered quickly.
“The (season-opening) St. Mary’s Invitational. We hadn’t even practiced yet … we showed we have such excellent raw material. And we were amazing,” Yule said.
Davis, playing five abbreviated games in two days of sometimes monsoon-like conditions, beat the host Rams and St. Francis to capture the tournament title.
“We set our goals right then and there. We really wanted to win sections,” Yule continued, agreeing with Engelhardt that the title lifted the DHS spirits and created a “go-time” feeling that kept the Devils on track all spring.
The friendships, the work ethic, an all-star role call of players like Jennie Hawkins, Dana Granger, Allie Muller and Anna Maria Gilbertson (among others) mixed well with the coaching staff and a rugged early schedule to send Davis to the national pinnacle.
Defender Yule said because most of the players are so close, it’s easy to say “the tough things to each other … to correct things and come right back and have things work.”
Carlson said the loss to Franklin meant little in the broad spectrum of the season: “We’re where we wanted to be. But I’d be lying if I said being No. 1 wouldn’t have been nice. But we won league. We’re seeded No. 1 and headed strong into the playoffs.”
So, with his captains sitting nearby, listening, Carlson was again asked The Question: Is this your best team ever?
“I don’t like to answer these questions, but in terms of overall balance — complete and total soccer — yes,” came the veteran mentor’s reply.
Notes: Wood (11-5-4) finished third in the Monticello Empire League. … DHS midfielder Clara Goin will miss the rest of the season. She injured her knee last year and came back for several games before re-injuring her leg. “We’ll really miss her and wish her well,” Carlson said. … Gilbertson leads the Devils with 38 goals. … If Davis continues to win, it will host through the championship encounter — which is May 21, and that site will be determined next week by CIF officials. … The Blue Devils scored 108 goals in the regular season, allowing only five. … Englehardt is headed for Sacramento State and Yule will attend the University of San Francisco — where both hope to play soccer.