It’s not practical for a coach or team to get overly enthusiastic based on the results of a season’s first week. Still, it’s hard not to be at least a little excited if you’re Head Coach Dawn Lee, whose Cathedral Catholic girls’ soccer team won, while hosting, the 13th annual Butch Lee Memorial Tournament last weekend.
The tournament, one of the pre-eminent early season events in San Diego, is named after Lee’s father, Butch, who preceded her as head coach when the school was still University of San Diego High School. Under his direction, Don teams captured an unprecedented eight consecutive CIF Championships. An assistant coach under her father, Dawn Lee assumed the reins when he passed away 20 years ago and has since bagged eight CIF banners of her own. The first two came at USDHS and the next six after the school had moved its campus to Del Mar Heights Rd. and became Cathedral Catholic.
The Dons have now won the Butch Lee Memorial Tournament three times with this year’s edition snapping a stretch of four unsuccessful attempts. Placed No. 3 in the Union-Tribune’s pre-season section poll, Cathedral’s season-opening four-game winning streak saw Lee’s charges out-score its opponents, 11-2, and get some additional satisfaction by knocking off neighborhood rival Torrey Pines, 3-1, in Saturday’s championship clash.
After playing to a scoreless draw through the first half, the Dons racked up three straight goals in an impressive second half outburst.
“I think we were super nervous in the first half—Torrey Pines has a great reputation, we haven’t played them for awhile and we have a fairly young team,” said Lee afterwards. “Once we realized we could kind of play with them, we just went out with a different confidence and brought it to them—when we scored that first goal, it really helped.”
Goal No. 1 came in unexpected fashion as junior defender Savannah Winkenhofer launched a perfectly-placed strike that found the back of the net from about 30 yds. out. Not long after, sophomore tournament MVP Kelsey Branson ran on to an over-the-top pass down the right side and converted, going cross cage from just inside the box. Speedy freshman forward Kate Dalton completed the scoring for Cathedral, winning a race to the ball and slotting it under the out-stretched arm of Torrey Pines keeper Ariel Hernquist. The Falcons created the final margin when senior midfielder Tatum Lelain, who scored six goals in the tournament, connected with a late penalty kick.
Although Cathedral Catholic turned out plenty enough offense, it was the defense that really made the difference in the title match. While the roster may tend to the youngish side overall, Lee’s back four of seniors Megan Janikowski and Bailey Malinowski, Winkenhofer and fellow junior Delaney Diltz are big, physical and experienced. Very tough to break down, they were a wall in front of junior goalkeeper Justy Carruthers and more often than not the catalysts for the offense.
“I thought as a team we played good defense and really swarmed to the ball,” said Lee. “But our back four was really solid and if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have been nearly as successful as we were.”
The quick, aggressive Branson, who seemed to play a role when most of the serious offensive action was occurring, gave credit to Lee for the team’s second half turnaround against Torrey Pines.
“I thought we did a really good job as a team and it was a fun experience, beating Torrey Pines and winning the tournament after not having done it for several years,” said Branson. “Our energy went way up in the second half and Coach Lee got us pretty motivated.
“She told us that ‘at the end of the day, the outcome doesn’t matter as much as knowing that when we leave the field, we have given everything we had.’ I felt like we did that.”
On the other side of the grounds, veteran Torrey Pines Head Coach Martyn Hansford was philosophical, knowing there’s still plenty of soccer left to play. “There were very few negatives to be honest with you,” Hansford appraised. “It was a really positive week for us, particularly considering we’ve played five games and had two training sessions which is totally out of whack.
“The biggest positive for me is our approach. Our attitude, investedness, togetherness and just the culture. Everyone is committed to working and trying to achieve the things we want to achieve. We’re a proper team and that will only get better.” He also gave the Dons their due, knowing that his side, ranked No. 4 in CIF, one spot below Cathedral, could very well meet them again down the line.
“Cathedral always seems to have a lot of big, strong athletes and I was impressed with their physicality,” he said. “They play front-to-back, a lot of direct balls and for us it was a good eye-opener. A lot of teams will play that way and we’ve got to know how to deal with it.” The Falcons sport a 3-1-1 ledger from week one that includes triumphs over 2018 Butch Lee victor Mater Dei (Santa Ana) and defending CIF Open Division champ and pre-season No. 1 Carlsbad.
For Lee, just three games shy of 400 prep coaching wins, the week’s consequences provided their own set of gratifications and reminders.
“It’s special anytime we win this tournament and to be able to do it against a great program like Torrey Pines makes it even moreso,” said Lee. “I’m stoked for the girls because early in the season you don’t really know what you have or exactly what to expect.
“One of the most important things I got from my dad was to concentrate on just trying to get the best our of every player and make sure they’re having fun. I think we accomplished that this week.”