Heading into the 2002-03 season, there was one team that was not only the top squad in the Mother Lode League, but also in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section: the Summerville Bears. In the previous two years, the Bears won back-to-back league championships and section championships. There was only one road to get to the top and that road went through Summerville.
So, it’s only fitting that the team that held the section crown for the two years before, had it taken away from a league rival. The 2002-03 Bret Harte Bullfrogs not only won their first – and only – section championship, they did so by knocking off the Bears.
Even before Bret Harte’s magical run to the section championship began, longtime head coach Jennifer Truman knew that Summerville was the team to beat and had a little extra motivation when it came to playing the Bears.
“I started my high school coaching with Jim Frazier at Summerville in 199596,” Truman said. “It was the first year Summerville had an official team. By 2003, Jim and I had an interesting and twisted relationship from mentor-student, to competitors.” Bret Harte had an undefeated league championship team in 2000 (led by current Bullfrog head coach Jessica Bowman) but fell short of reaching the section title game.
In 2001 and 2002, all the major accomplishments belonged to Summerville. By 2003, Truman felt that she finally had a squad that would be able to compete with the powerhouse of the MLL.
“The bulk of the 2000 team was seniors; mostly girls who were there from the beginning,” Truman said. “So, when they graduated, we had to work on building up the younger girls to fill those empty roles. When it came time for 2003, I again had a roster of mostly senior girls who were with the program for three to four years and played comp soccer for me in the offseason.”
The Bullfrogs ended up playing Summerville five times that year, with the first meeting coming in the Bret Harte Girls’ Soccer Invitational Tournament. The two squads met in the title game, with Summerville knocking off the ’Frogs 2-1.
Bret Harte began the league season with a 3-0 home shutout over Calaveras. The Bullfrogs got two goals from Megan Shires and one from co-captain Julie Lauterbach. After beating Amador 5-0 with goals from Stephanie Kramer, Shires, Lauterbach and Kathleen Avrit, Bret Harte got a chance to take on Summerville in league action. At the end of a physical game, neither team walked off the field with a victory, as it ended in a 1-1 draw.
Bret Harte got its only goal from Shires and the defending Most Valuable Defensive Player of the MLL, goalie Tawnie Lee, limited the Bears to just one goal. Although the Bullfrogs did not officially beat the Bears, they did hand Summerville its first blemish to a previously perfect 11-0 record.
“That early tie of 1-1 wasn’t a win for us, but it wasn’t a loss,” Truman said. “It gave us an outline of what we needed to work on and our goals.”
Bret Harte got into first place in the Mother Lode League for a short time, following a 2-0 win over Argonaut and another Summerville tie. The Bullfrogs ended the first round of league play with a 4-2 victory over Linden and posted a 4-0-1 league record.
After beating Calaveras, Bret Harte had another classic matchup with Summerville, only to lose 4-3 and fall out of first in the league standings. Bret Harte trailed on the road 3-1 at halftime and battled back, only to fall by one goal. Shires, Lauterbach and Christe Miller scored in the loss.
With a league record of 6-1-1, Bret Harte beat Argonaut, but then lost to Linden to cap the second round of league play. Bret Harte beat Calaveras for a third time, but then tied with Amador 0-0. The tie didn’t help the Bullfrogs in a chase for the league title, but another huge battle with Summerville was still on the books. And yet, once again, Summerville beat Bret Harte, this time 3-1.
In four head-to-head matchups with the Bears, Bret Harte was 0-3-1.
“Summerville was always the team to beat,” Truman said. “They were the first official team in the league and had been grooming talent for years.”
Bret Harte rebounded with a 7-1 win over Argonaut, which featured a hat trick from Shires and was fully prepared to take on Linden on senior night in the regular season finale. However, the tragic death of a Linden student forced the game to be postponed.
“The JV team was warming up, and Linden hadn’t arrived yet,” Truman said. “I got a phone call that a student – somehow related – to one of the players died in a car accident right after school and asked for the game to be postponed. Senior night is a big deal and the girls were really upset, but I am a true believer, and I instill in my players to be good sports, so we agreed.”
Bret Harte finished the league season 10-3-2, but once again saw Summerville capture its third league title in as many years. Even though the Bullfrogs weren’t league champions, they still qualified for the postseason.
“I don’t want to say we were ‘just happy to make the playoffs,’” Truman said. “Yes, we were happy that even though we had a frustrating second half of the season, we were happy to get the opportunity to get into the playoffs. That was a special group of girls and I just knew in my bones that taking one game at a time, and only two before the championship game, this team would prove they belonged there. But we didn’t over-plan. I know I stayed focused on one game at a time, and I believe the girls did too.”
Bret Harte opened the playoffs as the third-place team from the MLL against Marysville, who was the No. 1 team in the Golden Empire League. The Bullfrogs upset Marysville with a 3-2 overtime victory. Lauterbach scored the game-winning goal in the second round of overtime. Up next for Bret Harte was Hilmar, who the Bullfrogs were also able to vanquish 1-0 to reach the section championship game.
And who just so happened to be the other team to reach the final game of the season? Yeah, Summerville.
“On one hand, no, we didn’t want to play them again,” Truman said. “Things were tense between the two groups. And some of it was playing out beyond kicking a ball. We knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. But that was also the reason why playing Summerville was good for us, too. Coaching with and against Jim for so long, I had a good idea what he was going to do and what to expect from his players. I’m sure he thought the same thing. You’d have to ask the girls yourself, but I believe they were looking forward to having one more shot at Summerville.”
And for the first time in five attempts, Bret Harte beat the big bad Bears 3-1 in overtime to capture the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship.
Bret Harte trailed 1-0 at the midway point, but early in the second half, Lauterbach tied the game at 1-1, which was also the score at the end of regulation. In overtime, Lauterbach gave the Bullfrogs the lead with a penalty kick. And it was Miller, who put the game away with a goal to put Bret Harte up 3-1.
Bringing home a blue section championship banner proved that girls’ soccer could be a top sport at Bret Harte.
“At that time, girls’ soccer fought for respect; respect from their peers and from the community,” Truman said. “In those days, the girl sports were basketball, volleyball, track and cross country. My teams were thought of as, you played soccer because you weren’t on those other teams, even though my best goalies were volleyball players … That team met my expectations and surpassed their personal goals and did themselves proud. 2003 wasn’t easy, for many, many reasons, but it is the perseverance that paid off. It’s hard for me to take credit because it is the girls who did the hard work. But I would be negligent not to admit that I am proud to be a part of that season and honored to say that I coached that team to their victorious section championship.”
The section championship victory was not only Bret Harte’s first, but also its only trip to the final game. The 2002-03 Mother Lode League all-league players were Lauterbach, Miller, Alana Castaneda and Lee. The 200203 section championship team was: Gina Garland; Christe Miller; Arla Yost; Tawnie Lee; Maiyan Orvis; Chelsea Conrad; Melissa Garcia; Kiri Dyken; Alana Castanada; Samantha Hall; Eva Oliver; Barbara Benton; Stephanie Kramer; Natalie Kramer; Julie Lauterbach; Megan Shires; and Kathleen Avrit.