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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
One point separated the Artesia High and Cerritos High girls soccer teams for fourth place and the last automatic playoff spot coming out of the Suburban League with two games remaining in the regular season. A win by Artesia would wrap everything up while Cerritos needed a win and at least a tie in the Feb. 11 finale at league champion La Mirada High.
With a game-time temperature of 92 degrees, the Artesia defense heated up even more and shutout the host Lady Dons 2-0 this past Tuesday to advance to the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoffs for the eighth straight season.
“It’s nice,” said Artesia head coach Octavio Marquez. “We struggled the last five or six games to score goals and I think there could have been two or three games earlier on that we should have won. But defensively, that’s what has been carrying us this year and last year.”
“It’s disappointing because we tried so hard throughout the year to grow as a team and to find some success,” said Cerritos first-year head coach Robert Adams. “We had a good season and I think when we get a little more time to think about it, it will be okay. But for today, it’s a very difficult loss.”
The Pioneers (12-7-2 overall, 5-5-1 in league) went through a stretch from Jan. 20-Feb. 3 in which they had not scored a goal. But the team posted a 1-0 win over Norwalk on Feb. 5.
Not only was the Artesia defense hot like the air temperature, but the Cerritos defense wasn’t that bad either besides the two goals it allowed. Both teams combined for five shots on goal in the first half with the first chance coming in the seventh minute when Cerritos sophomore forward Amadi Maatafale’s shot off of a corner kick went too high. Six minutes later, Artesia sophomore midfielder Brittany Llanes took a shot that was blocked by Cerritos senior goalkeeper Yvette Galicia.
“I wasn’t worried or nervous,” Marquez said of the game. “It was just a little bit frustrating because we had played well. The last four or five games we played well. But we weren’t able to score goals. We knew we had to win the Norwalk and Cerritos games and I think the girls were ready.”
But in the 16th minute, the Pioneers, who had blanked Cerritos 1-0 on Jan. 13, got on the board when senior defender Terri Avila scored off a Llanes corner kick, one of nine that the Pioneers would take. It was Avila’s second goal of the season with the other coming back on Dec. 8.
The second shot from Cerritos came in the 24th minute when sophomore midfielder Kavitha George’s free kick went off to the left of the net. In the second half, the Pioneers managed only two shots with the first coming in the 54th minute; a Llanes shot that was deflected up and over the net by Galicia. But she redeemed herself 14 minutes later when she took a corner kick and managed to curve the shot past Galicia for the insurance tally. Llanes, who scored the lone goal in the first meeting, leads the team with 13 goals.
“Terri is a three-year varsity player and probably one of our hardest working players on the field,” Marquez said. “If you tell her to run through a wall, she’ll probably run through a wall. With Brittany, we had a little more expectations of her, but she’s coming around. She’s coming up clutch for us when we need her to.”
The only shot on goal the Lady Dons (10-8-2, 4-7-0) would get in the second half came in the 72nd minute when junior forward Jessica Chen’s shot on a breakaway was stopped by sophomore goalkeeper Destinee Montenegro.
“That’s been our problem all year…that we’re playing as a team and we never developed a way to create offense.” Adams said of the lack of offense. “So we shifted players around and as I guessed might happen with a new coach, we never got them in the right spots to be productive enough to be able to be successful against teams like Artesia and Bellflower and the other top teams in the league.”
Knocking off Cerritos to get into the playoffs was a mirrored image for the Pioneers from the late 1990s and early 2000s when the two would battle for third place and, at the time, the last automatic playoff spot. Cerritos was a consistent third place team while the Pioneers finished in fourth place in 1998, 1999 and 2001 and tied Cerritos for third place in 2000.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” Marquez said. “I told my girls that we needed to win this game. I didn’t tell them anything about a [potential] tie or whatever. We were just looking after ourselves and playing the style that we play and going out and playing hard. I thought in the first half we did well controlling the game.”
Both teams began the regular season on a roll with the Pioneers winning seven of 10 games played in December while Cerritos went 6-1-2 before league action began and won all four games it played in the Bellflower Tournament. In fact, the Lady Dons outscored their December opponents 35-4 but allowed 15 goals in league action.
In addition, both teams are still young with Artesia graduating four players off a team of 17 and Cerritos just losing Galicia to graduation. The experience of both teams should provide another exciting 2016-2017 campaign.
“As a coaching staff, we never want to talk about projecting the next year,” Adams said. “I would expect that we will develop as a unit. Our talent will get better, our teamwork will get better and as that happens, I think we’ll mature as a group. We do look forward to every opportunity to get better and to try to find some success. As I was talking to the coaching staff today, I’m always a lot more pleased in April than I am the day after we lose, when the season comes to an end like that. When you look at it, [this season] was a very successful season and there a lot of positives to grow by. I’m very optimistic moving ahead.”
Artesia ended the regular season at John Glenn High on Feb. 11 while Cerritos travelled to La Mirada on the same day. There is a slight chance the Lady Dons could get in the playoffs as an at-large representative.
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