Top three girls soccer seeds advance to CIF Open Division semi-finals

Junior Sophia Aragon (22) assisted on Cathedral Catholic's first goal.
(Ken Grosse)

At halftime of Wednesday’s CIF Girls’ Soccer Open Division quarterfinal, No. 1 seeded Cathedral Catholic had a 1-0 lead over visiting eighth seed San Marcos but Dons’ Head Coach Dawn Lee, owner of over 400 career wins and eight section titles, was not satisfied with what she’d seen in the first 40 minutes.

Her halftime talk, centered around the concepts of the Dons’ playing their “own controlled game” and not the “frantic” style that San Marcos had lured them into. Several minutes in, the discourse was interrupted by a handful of players noisily scattering to evade an errant bee that had invaded the huddle and landed near where they were sitting. Without saying a word, Lee pulled out a folded piece of paper, calmly walked over to the grounded insect, scooped it up and deposited it about 10 yards away (not wanting to harm a species key to the environment). When she returned to the group, she picked up the second half messaging without skipping a beat.

The modern renaissance coach—winning games, providing examples and saving the planet, all in one fell swoop. OK, maybe a little dramatic, but points were clearly made as Cathedral came out for the second half in a much more organized, purposeful fashion, dictating the run of play, scoring a second goal and easing to a 2-1 victory that puts them in next Tuesday’s semi-final against (Feb. 25) fifth-seeded Eastlake, a 3-1 winner over No. 4 La Costa Canyon.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed and defending CIF Open champion Carlsbad began its title defense in smooth fashion, turning away seventh seed Del Norte, 3-1. The Lancers will square off against third-seeded Torrey Pines in the semis in what will be the third meeting of the two Avocado West League rivals this season (Carlsbad holds a 2-1 edge). The Falcons, twice the Open champion since the elite division was formed in 2014, earned their ticket to the second round by whitewashing No. 6 Poway, 1-0.

Bailey Malinowski (12) congratulates Megan Janikowski on her first half score.
(Ken Grosse)

Here’s a quick recap Tuesday’s four quarterfinal contests.

Cathedral Catholic 2 San Marcos 1

In the aforementioned helter-skelter first half, a physical, high pressure San Marcos side was beating their top-seeded host to balls, keeping the Dons attack from really connecting and creating the impression that it might be capable of pulling an upset.

In the 32nd minute, Cathedral got the breakthrough it needed. Junior Sophia Aragon drove a high corner kick through the box that was punched out by Knights’ goalkeeper Lilly Etheridge. Dons’ senior defender Megan Janikowski volleyed it off one hop from just outside the box and into the right side of the net for the first score of the afternoon.

“It’s a great feeling to score in a playoff game and we hadn’t been playing that well,” said Janikowski. “I actually thought one of their defenders was going to clear it out but she kind of whiffed on the kick and it got through.

“Set pieces are definitely an important part of our game plan and I do like being involved with the offense in those situations. Honestly, sometimes defense can get a little boring.”

From Lee’s perspective, it was a momentum-changing moment that came at a good time for a group that hadn’t seen game action 12 days.

“We obviously looked like we had some cobwebs, started off very slow and getting that goal gave us a chance to kind of reset ourselves.,” said Lee. “At halftime, I think we just realized we needed to play our game. San Marcos is a good team and we were reacting to what they were doing, getting away from what we do best.

“In the end, we got the W and I’ll take that. The important thing is that we capitalized when we needed to. We know we have to make our opportunities count, especially on corner kicks and throw-ins.”

With 27:10 remaining in the contest, the Dons did just that for a second time as senior Delaney Diltz unleased a powerful throw-in from the left sideline that senior Audrey Covington headed home. San Marcos tallied on a late penalty kick to break the shutout. Lee felt it was a good lesson for her squad in regard to what it will be facing next week.

“It’s the CIF Playoffs—San Marcos came at us today with a lot of urgency and every game is going to be like that,” said Lee emphatically. “It’s fun being the No. 1 team during the regular season and the No. 1 seed but when it comes to the playoffs, that doesn’t mean much except that we’re going to have a bigger target on our backs. We’ll be better next time out. I’m just glad to get this first one out of the way.”

Carlsbad 3 Del Norte 1

No question that defending champ Carlsbad deserves its spot in the CIF Open Division semi-finals. Del Norte can tell you that. The Nighthawks were on the short end of a 3-1 ledger Tuesday and it was the third straight time the Lancers have prevailed head-to-head, cumulative score, 10-2.

As it has been so many times, against so many teams, it was a Lexi Wright showcase. The breathtaking junior was responsible for all three Carlsbad tallies, bringing her season total to 47.

“Being the defending champions gives us that much more motivation to do it back-to-back,” said Wright. “We’ve beaten Del Norte twice already but we came out and worked hard, like we usually do, because we know that every opponent is going to give us everything they have.

“Mentally, I know I was really into it tonight. We had a bunch of chances on crosses and rebounds but just weren’t always able to finish. We just kept attacking, kept pressing and eventually got it into the net.”

Torrey Pines junior Tatum O'Coyne (13) scored the game's only goal.
(Ken Grosse)

Torrey Pines 1 Poway 0

A year ago Torrey Pines sophomore Tatum O’Coyne was called up from the junior varsity team and sat on the bench as the Falcons were ushered out of the CIF Open Division playoffs in the first round for the second consecutive season. Tuesday, the speedy forward was a starter and her second half goal proved to be the difference as Torrey Pines eliminated visiting Poway.

Although O’Coyne is the Falcons’ second-leading goal scorer on the season, she found the CIF opener to be a different animal. “It was my first playoff game and I was really nervous at the start,” conceded O’Coyne. “The last two years we’ve gone out in the first round, so it was really intense.

“I think everyone was nervous in the first half and we never really got into our rhythm. But once we got it, the shots started coming.”

The biggest one came less than three minutes into the second half, following a frustrating first 40 minutes for the home team. O’Coyne dribbled the ball down the left sideline and cut in searching for a play.

“I was looking to cross it and actually did try to cross it but it got blocked and deflected right back to me,” said O’Coyne. “and I just ripped it.” The shot, taken just outside the 18-yd. box toward the end line was at a difficult angle but found the top right corner.

From the vantage point of Head Coach Martyn Hansford it was a big shot for both the team and the player. “I mean we had enough chances to score a bunch of goals,” said Hansford. “But we got through the first round and that’s all that matters.

Falcon senior Tatum Lenain
(Ken Grosse)

“We made hard work of it but that’s what our goal was tonight and we achieved it. We only needed one.

“It was a great goal by Tatum. Her work rate this year has been phenomenal and she’s done a an excellent job of getting herself into positions to be successful. She probably should have a lot more goals than she has (six) and I think she’s a little frustrated with that but I keep telling her to just keep doing the right things and it will come. She scored a really important goal for us against LCC in the last regular season game and an even more important goal tonight. Hopefully, it’s just a start.”

Senior goalkeeper Arielle Hernquist and the staunch Falcon defense blanked the Titans and have given up just two goals in the last four outings.

Hansford summed things up. “Our performance level was nowhere near where it’s been the last couple of games and that was disappointing but take away a couple of great saves by their keeper and we make a couple of finishes, it could have been a lot more comfortable than it was,” he said. “Up just 1-nil with a couple of minutes to go, it’s not a nice feeling to have.

“But I’d rather play under par and win than play our socks off and lose. That’s what happened the last two years—we played well but lost on silly mistakes. Now, we’re moving forward.”

Eastlake 3 La Costa Canyon 1

Junior Courtney Hilliard’s first half goal put La Costa Canyon in control early but visiting Eastlake, the 2018 Open Division banner winners, equalized before the break and pulled away in the second half to send the Mavericks to the playoff sidelines.

A communications snafu took the home team out of its game routine before the opening kickoff and maybe some steam out of its showing in the main act. The start, originally scheduled for 5 p.m., was moved back to 6:15 p.m. because Eastlake believed the game was slated for 7 p.m. So, the Mavericks cooled their heels and waited.

First-year Head Coach Ryan Morissey, who engineered a nice turnaround for the LCC program this season, was pragmatic about the result. “The storyline of the game is that it was a funky situation but Eastlake is a good team and scored three good goals,” said Morissey. “We were a bit unlucky and didn’t capitalize a number of times when we could have.

“This was a tough way to end but tonight was not the story of our season. We had a good year and the girls worked hard right up to the very end.”