Fowler High’s girls soccer team will receive the rock star treatment Thursday morning.
First, a school rally is planned to cheer the Redcats as they board a bus bound for Thousand Oaks.
Then a police escort will see the team off from campus at 9 a.m. and through downtown, where well-wishers will line Merced Street for a champion’s sendoff.
Why the fanfare?
Well, it’s not every day a Fowler team advances to the CIF Southern California Regional semifinals. In fact, no Redcats team in any sport had won a state or regional playoff game until Tuesday, when fourth-seeded Fowler beat No. 5 Frazier Mountain 5-2 in the opening round of the Division V tournament.
According to Fowler athletic director Joe Hammond, only the school’s 2014 D-IV section-winning volleyball team and a basketball team from the 1980s have reached regional competition, each losing in the first round.
“I think it’s incredible. We’re setting the bar for the other teams,” senior co-captain Emily Chavez said. “We’re always going to be the first. People will remember us. It’s a great accomplishment to get this far.”
Fowler (24-3-1) continues its historic postseason journey against top-seeded Grace Brethren-Simi Valley (23-4-0). The match is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. at William Rolland Stadium, the 2,000-seat, artificial turf, NCAA regulation-size home of Cal Lutheran University.
“It’s so amazing to be able to be a senior and be a part of the first ever team from Fowler to do this,” co-captain Bethany Lucio said. “I’m so grateful and blessed to play with such a wonderful group of girls.”
The Redcats have been building toward this moment since Chavez, a goaltender who has been injured much of the season, and Lucio, a midfielder who scored her 23rd goal of the season Tuesday, were freshmen.
Fowler went 18-6-3 in 2013 and reached the Central Section D-V semifinals. The Redcats were 19-8-1 and lost 2-1 against Sierra in the D-V final in 2014 and captured the school’s first section girls soccer title with a 3-1 win over McFarland in D-V to cap a 23-4 season last year.
“I saw it from the very beginning of my first season here,” third-year coach Edward Benavente said. “You could see in their eyes they wanted this.”
Fowler has outscored its opposition 151-27 this season behind an offense led by junior Jessica Dondlinger (43 goals and 20 assists) and sophomores Victoria DeLeon (23 goals) and Sarah Solis (15 goals). DeLeon and Solis each scored twice Tuesday against Frazier Mountain.
Defensively, the Redcats allow 0.96 goals per game behind starters Jennifer Hernandez, Danielle Perez and Alyssa Cervantes as well as key reserves Morgan Malicoat and Crystal Alburto.
Fowler’s only setbacks are losses to section D-II champ Madera South (1-0), D-IV runner-up Bakersfield Christian (3-0) and West Sequoia League rival Caruthers (2-1 in OT) and a tie against D-III semifinalist Hoover (2-2).
Grace Brethren, last season’s regional D-V runner-up, rolls in on a 20-match winning streak. The Lancers are the Frontier League and Southern Section D-VII champions.
“Playing the No. 1 is a little tougher,” Benavente said. “But if there is a team that can pull an upset, it’s going to be these girls. They are talented and humble.”
Only four of the Central Section’s 12 SoCal Regional participants reached the semifinals, with South hosting La Costa Canyon-Carlsbad in D-II boys, Mendota playing at Desert Mirage-Thermal in D-V boys and Strathmore hosting Moorpark in D-IV girls.