The difference between a good season and a disastrous one is often closer than it seems.
One or two missing elements can be all it takes to send a team from title contender to the bottom of the standings. Take the Golden Valley girls soccer team, for example.
Despite a core of midfielders Justyne Sanchez, Brandy Cervantes and Brittany Cervantes, defenders Danielle Vigil and Imari Barnes and goalkeeper Marina Arroyo all contributing, the Cougars won just two Central California Conference games and three total games a year ago.
Adding dynamic striker Megan Pust has helped turn that around. With a team-high 23 goals and eight assists, the 31 scores the sophomore has directly contributed to almost doubled the total number GV had a year ago (17). And she shows no signs of slowing. Her three goals in Tuesday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division II first-round upset of No. 5 Beyer earned the 12th-seeded Cougars a home quarterfinal match against No. 13 Cosumnes Oaks on Thursday at Veterans Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m.
“There’s no doubt she’s made a major impact on our program,” Golden Valley coach Lance Eber said. “We didn’t have that strong forward presence a year ago, and now we have it with her and a couple (of) other underclassmen. It’s exciting knowing that group is going to continue to develop and grow for the next few years.”
That might be the scariest part for opposing defenses: Pust is only going to get better. After taking a year off to do track and field at the behest of her family, Pust didn’t regain her form until the start of conference play.
“I never expected to have this kind of season my first year,” Pust said. “To be honest, I’ve never been a superstar before. Coming in, I knew I had speed and that I needed to continue to develop my footwork. I’ve got a few moves in my bag of tricks, but it’s gotten better as the season has gone along.
“A lot of the credit has to go to my teammates. A lot of goals they did all the work, and I just had to finish it off.”
Pust’s teammates are just as quick to return the praise, citing her work ethic.
“You look around and a lot of the girls out here are the same ones from last year, so that was obviously a big disappointment,” Brittany Cervantes said of last season. “Having Megan has made a big difference. Last year we had the defense, but couldn’t score goals. This year, we know we have forwards that are going to work hard for us, and that’s let us be much more creative and active as midfielders.”
With a good first touch and pace few defenses can match, Pust has proven herself a versatile scorer. Although breakaways tend to be a common occurrence at Cougar matches, she showed off her broad skill set in GV’s 3-1 first-round win over Beyer.
Pust’s anticipation and burst allowed her to be first to react to a rebound for an easy tap in. Pust then fought through a throng of bodies in the box to volley home her second goal. The hat trick came in the second half when she let fly on a shot from 40 yards out.
“I was pretty nervous going into that game,” Pust said. “All through warmups my legs felt heavy. I just felt like it was a night I wasn’t going to score. My teammates did a great job setting me up and I was able to finish a couple.
“Being a 12 seed, we never thought we’d get the opportunity to host a game, so we’re really excited. Everyone says they’re coming to watch us play, so hopefully we can win for them.”
Sun-Star staff writer Sean Lynch can be reached at (209) 385-2476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.