The No. 1 Catalina Foothills girls soccer team didn’t wait long to assert itself as the top side in Southern Arizona, and perhaps all of Division II.
Just 91 seconds, to be exact.
As the sizable crowd at Ironwood Ridge was still settling in for a matchup between the top two teams in Southern Arizona, Falcons forward Aminah Settles deftly controlled a cross from junior Emily Parker, avoided a collision between the Nighthawks goalkeeper and defender and slotted home the game’s opening goal.
“It’s amazing to be able to come out here and do it so fast,” said Settles, the team’s leading scorer. “And obviously I can’t do it without my team.”
Foothills scored three more in the half, including another from Settles, to beat No. 3 Ironwood Ridge 5-3 on Friday for its second win over the Nighthawks this season.
Despite two comfortable wins (4-0 and 5-3) against I-Ridge, Foothills coach Charlie Kendrick said the Nighthawks match up with his side as well as any team in the state.
“It was a million miles per hour all game long,” he said, “and that’s nothing less than you’d expect against Ironwood. … The longer we stay away from these guys in the state tournament, the better.”
While I-Ridge’s athleticism had Kendrick “praying for the clock to expire,” the Falcons still controlled the majority of the game, taking a two-goal lead in the 15th minute after senior Shelby Tober finished in front of the net.
I-Ridge (13-4-1) showed some life as junior Victoria Cooper scored her first of two goals in the 25th minute on a towering header that sailed over the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Sam Weisband. Yet Settles quickly erased any comeback hopes with her second goal less than two minutes later, putting the Falcons on course for their eighth win against Division II schools ranked 17th or better.
“Speed of play-wise we’re as good as any Foothills team has ever been,” Kendrick said. “When we play — and we play with confidence and we play fast — we are as good as any high school team I’ve seen.”
That’s a scary thought for the rest of the division, with Foothills (17-1-2) searching for its fifth straight state title. Only No. 4 Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep has gotten the best of the Falcons this season, and it took penalty kicks in the semifinals of the Horizon Tournament to do it.
I-Ridge coach Sean Watkins said his program’s goal is to establish itself as the next-best school in Division II behind Foothills. Even though I-Ridge showed some fight with two second-half goals, which he said bodes well for the playoffs, the Nighthawks have a ways to go before they can “start taking a little piece” of the Falcons’ hold on soccer.
And the Falcons look to once again be at their best when the playoffs start Feb. 5. Yet that doesn’t take away any of the pressure for Settles and company.
“It’s scary,” Settles said about the pressure. “But it also gives you that drive that you want to win (a) fourth one. If you don’t (win), I don’t know.”
In other local action Friday night, No. 9 Sahuaro knocked off No. 5 Sabino 2-0 to further shake up the top 10 in Division II. I-Ridge will likely remain high in the rankings despite the loss.
It will have a chance to get back on the winning track when it hosts Mountain View on Wednesday night. The Nighthawks will close the regular season the following night with another tough test, against Tempe Corona del Sol, the No. 10 team in Division I.
Foothills likely locked up the top seed for the playoffs with the win. Its final two matches are against Flowing Wells and Casa Grande, two teams with losing records.