No surprises in the Avocado West field hockey world. Last year, Torrey Pines and Canyon Crest tied for the league championship and prior to the start of the 2019 campaign, the consensus was that the same two schools would be the favorites to finish at the top of the table again.
Well, nearly two-thirds of the way through the schedule, the two rivals sit right where they were expected to be—both 3-0 in Avocado West action, Torrey Pines second in the most recent CIF section ranking and Canyon Crest fourth. In the first of two league contests, the duo will square off Wednesday (5:30 p.m.) at Canyon Crest to see who can get the upper hand through the initial half of Avo West play.
The two sides have a number of similarities. First-year Head Coach Courtney Spleen’s Torrey Pines squad is 15-3 overall, has won six-in-a-row and scored 48 goals while surrendering just 20 (a whopping 14 in two tussles with top-ranked Serra). Canyon Crest, coached by Kiana Duncan, now in her third season at the helm, boasts a 14-3-1 mark, has won seven consecutive times and outscored its opponents, 41-13.
She concedes that it’s more than just your average game. “I’m always a little bit nervous because getting by Torrey Pines is always a feat,” said Duncan, whose 2018 unit captured the CIF Division II title. “They’re obviously a good team but there’s always the mental part of this being a rivalry game.
“But our girls have the tools they need and it will just come down to how well they show them Wednesday.” It hasn’t taken Spleen long to understand the importance of the match-up and she also feels her team will be primed.
“We’ll definitely be ready and excited,” said Spleen. “After losing to CCA in the final regular season game last year that left us tied for the Avocado West championship, beating them has been one of our team’s goals from the start.
“I know our girls will be coming out hungry and ready for a good game.”
Sophomore Andie Gately has been CCA’s top offensive threat, netting 13 goals to date and the Ravens have a stout defense fronted by senior Danielle Anapoell and junior Carolina Ceribelli and backstopped by senior goalie Annie Darawula who has stopped 70 shots and recorded half a dozen shutouts. It’s best player might be versatile midfielder Jamie Ma.
“One of the things I really like about this team is that we don’t really have that one standout player,” said Duncan. “Team depth is our strength—we know we can dig deep into our bench and still have a high level player.”
Torrey Pines also sports an impressive defense and if you overlook the pair of one-sided losses to Serra, the Falcons’ back line, spearheaded by junior Erin Poe, have surrendered just six goals in the other 16 outings. Poe and her defensive mates’ prowess has provided time for improving freshman goalie Bella Anfuso to find her footing. Spleen’s offense has a group of big sticks. Led by junior Hailey Dewey and freshman Stella Mikolajewski with seven each, six players have five or more goals—and looking to the future, none of the six are seniors.
The two teams have already met once, in the consolation finals of the Serra Tournament on Sept. 21. In that one, Canyon Crest knotted the score at 1-1 with a goal in the final minute and got the victory in an overtime shootout. Played on a grass field as the third game for both teams on a particularly hot day with no league implications, it was a much different environment than the two squads can expect for Wednesday’s rematch.
“Both teams will be well-rested and it should be a much better overall hockey game,” said Spleen. “This is going to feature two solid defenses and our biggest struggle might be getting the ball past their goalie. She blocked quite a few shots the first time we played.
“To win, we’re going to have to capitalize in the circle, getting rebounds and tips, as well as execute and finish on corners.”
Duncan has her own recipe for recording a third win in a row over Torrey Pines. “Obviously, we’re going to have to be tight on defense because they’ve got some talented kids who really know how to score,” she said. “I feel like we need to start quickly, focus on getting quick shots and put the ball in the goal.”
Like her counterpart, she does not downplay the significance of the game. “A win would be awesome and really show our girls that the work they put in during the off-season is paying off,” said Duncan. “If we want to win the Avocado West outright, we’re probably going to have to beat Torrey Pines twice—that would be a great accomplishment.”
The second game of the league series will be played Nov. 5 at Torrey Pines.