It was an anticlimactic finish, but as satisfying an outcome as any during an 11-year run of County/Metro Athletic Conference dominance by the Bullard High School girls soccer team.
The Knights clinched their 10th league title in the past 11 years with a 0-0 tie against Edison on Thursday in their regular-season finale.
Bullard (14-5-1, 7-2-1) emerged as the CMAC’s outright champion when Madera beat rival Madera South 1-0 later Thursday. The Knights would have shared the league title with Madera South had the Stallions won.
Unlike most of the Knights’ first nine titles in their present run, this one didn’t come easy.
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And it wouldn’t have happened without a late stumble from Madera South, which dropped three of its past four games to lose grip on sole possession of a league that features three teams – the No. 3 Stallions, No. 4 Knights and No. 12 Madera – ranked among The Bee’s Central Section Top 15. And Edison (9-7-5, 5-4-1) was on the cusp of a Top 15 ranking all season.
The CMAC is much harder than its ever been. ... So the CMAC title means more to us than it ever has.
Bullard girls soccer coach Onesta Francis after the Knights won their 10th County/Metro Athletic Conference title in the past 11 seasons
“I’m really happy for our girls. We set that as the first goal for our season,” Bullard coach Onesta Francis said. “The CMAC is much harder than it’s ever been. Madera South is very good. Madera High has been very competitive. The overall coaching has gotten much better with Cameron Hill at Madera High and Ramon Delgadillo over at Madera South and Larry Hinz (at Edison). So the CMAC title means more to us than it ever has.”
The Knights wasted a chance to enter the Division I playoffs on a five-game winning streak by failing to capitalize on several scoring opportunities, including a couple heart-breakers on free kicks by Franchelle Delacruz-Cabral, who had one hit the crossbar and bounce out of bounds, and a second punched over the goal by Tigers goalkeeper Iris Skeen.
“We definitely could have made some finishes to put it away, but overall it was a great team fight,” Delacruz-Cabral said. “We’re looking forward to pushing through into the playoffs and getting that championship ring.”
Tri-River Athletic Conference champion Clovis East, the section’s only undefeated team at 17-0-3, is expected to be given Division I’s No. 1 seed when the section announces pairings for its six boys and girls playoff divisions about 1 p.m. Friday.
The Knights likely will slot in somewhere from two to four in what’s expected to be a deep and evenly matched D-I bracket.
“We think we match up well with anybody. We’re looking forward to seeing how the tournament breaks down,” Francis said. “The competition for D-I is closer than it’s ever been. I don’t think there is an out-and-out favorite. I know Clovis East has been doing really well, so you got to put them at the No. 1 seed. But the way teams match up, everybody is close. All of the games have been close competition. It’s really going to be anyone’s tournament to win this year.”
Edison enters the D-II playoffs a confident bunch, having beaten likely No. 1 seed Madera South 3-1 on Feb. 5, and owning a win (over Bullard) and three ties (with Central, Clovis West and Bullard) against top D-I contenders.
“I think our team has been battle-tested,” Hinz said. “I think we have a chance to make a deep run and go the distance.”