SOCCER: Overtime goal crowns Monarchs valley champions

Daya Ramirez nets an overtime goal to help the Exeter Monarchs win the Division III valley championship

EXETER – After 85 minutes of slippery turf and relentless rain, the Exeter Monarchs won the valley championship with a single goal in overtime against the Kerman Lions.

The Monarchs faced the Lions for the third time this season when they met in the Division III finals on Feb. 24. Though they’d won their two previous games against the Lions, the Monarchs weren’t overconfident. It was a close matchup and neither team was able to score in the first two halves, sending them to overtime. After a change in strategy, junior Daya Ramirez netted a goal with an assist from senior Olivia Vasquez to secure the championship for the Monarchs.

“It wasn’t our best game of the year,” Exeter head coach Darin Lasky said. “But we fought. Kerman took us out of our game really well.”

The Monarchs made a couple of changes in their strategy for overtime after Kerman consistently shut them down during regulation. The key was putting Ramirez in the midfield in order to either push the ball quickly up the middle or have her ready to receive a centering pass. Vasquez took the ball into the Kerman zone and passed to Ramirez, who turned and shot at the goal. The goalie didn’t have the time to react before it was past her.

“It’s the most important thing for you to be fast with the ball and have quick feet,” Ramirez said. “It was very emotional for me because it was the winning goal and we came all this way.”

The Monarchs have had an impressive season with an overall record of 22-3. In the new Tri-County league, they faced tough competition and came in second to the Kingsburg Vikings. They had already faced Kerman twice in league play before meeting them in the finals. Both previous matches had been close games, with the Monarchs barely pulling out ahead.

The championship game was as close as the previous two games. The Monarchs dominated possession of the ball in the first half, but the Kerman defenders and goalie were fully prepared for their strategy. They held off the Monarchs from scoring in the first 80 minutes of play. Lasky made several changes to the lineup throughout the game, but it was putting Ramirez in the midfield that turned out to be key to scoring.

“We just kept trying to get something in the middle. And it finally started in overtime. We weren’t on our heels anymore and we were starting to pound away,” Lasky said.

The last time the Monarchs won a valley championship was two years ago in 2021, but that was in Division IV. This year, the Monarchs moved up to the tougher Division III. The tougher league and the tougher division against bigger schools has pushed the Monarchs to play their best game. Out of their 22 wins, they’ve had 19 shutouts, including all four playoff games. The Monarchs have only allowed nine goals the entire season.

“We put everything in our play like it was our last game,” Ramirez said. “It was very emotional for me because we tried so hard and they’re so good. And it took us so much practice. It was all teamwork. I couldn’t have done it without [this team].”

The season isn’t over for the Monarchs. They will play a regional game on Feb. 28, the first in state playoffs. With a 22-3 record, Lasky is hoping the team will be able to play at home, but the Monarchs are prepared to travel if they have to.

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