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CIF-SS Div. 7 Soccer Championship: Whitney’s Valiant Effort Dies in Overtime Loss to Second Ranked Sierra Canyon

THE 2021 WHITNEY HIGH boys soccer team poses with its runner-up plaque following its 3-2 overtime loss to Sierra Canyon High last Friday in the CIF-Southern Section Division 7 championship game. Whitney finishes the season at 9-4-1. PHOTO BY LOREN KOPFF.

BY LOREN KOPFF

CHATSWORTH-One thing was sure prior to the CIF-Southern Section Division 7 boys soccer championship-a first-time champion was going to be crowned. On one side, you had Whitney High, the sixth ranked team in the division whose program had never advanced to the semifinals in school history.

On the other side was Sierra Canyon High, the second-ranked team in the division which had gone 2-15-5 last season and had posted double digit victories for the third time in the past 12 games. Whitney’s remarkable run came to an end as Jordan Becker scored an unassisted goal eight minutes into overtime to lift the host Trailblazers to a 3-2 victory last Friday afternoon. After a 3-1 loss to Crossroads High this past Tuesday in the first round of the Division V Southern California Regionals, the Wildcats end their season at 9-4-1.

“We told our kids they have to be proud and to keep their heads up,” said Whitney first-year head coach Juan Luis Arevalo said. “We’ll talk to the kids and tell them it’s a good season. Unfortunately, there always has to be a winner and a loser and today it just happened to be us on the losing side.”

“This is my first year, so I think the whole approach was different, and that’s not a reflection on the previous coaching staff,” said Sierra Canyon head coach Chris Bonawandt. “It’s just that I tried to change the culture a little bit, and Covid actually helped with that.”

Whitney stunned the home crowd in the eighth minute as senior midfielder David Velazquez scored on a free kick 37 yards out and would maintain that lead for the next 20 minutes. While the Wildcats couldn’t generate many scoring chances in the half (four shots on goal), Sierra Canyon was squandering numerous attempts to put Whitney in a deep hole.

In the 18th minute, Whitney senior goalkeeper Salvador Ortiz blocked a point-blank shot from Constantine Theodoratos and three minutes later, a shot from Dylan Nelson was stymied by Ortiz on the goal line. Sierra Canyon, which peppered Ortiz to the tune of 28 shots, most of them sailing over the crossbar or going off to either side, finally broke through in the 28th minute when Danny Pierce fed a pass to Notre Dame University commit Josh Byron for the equalizer.

“That was our game plan again; get an early lead,” Arevalo said. “I know we’re not the talented team, but we work as a team. We tell them if you put in the work and we work as a team, teamwork always beats talent when talent doesn’t want to put in the work.

“Sierra Canyon is a good team; a well-coached team,” he continued. “Again, when David scored that goal, we told them, ‘okay, here we goal. Let’s try to keep that lead’.”

Just two minutes into the second half, Nelson gave the Trailblazers a 2-1 lead but almost immediately after that, Whitney senior forward Rodrigo Mecol notched his team-leading 16th goal to tie the game. Mecol’s goal marked the ninth game out of Whitney’s 13 he has scored, but in three of those four games he did not score, the Wildcats were shutout.  The rest of the team combined to score 10 goals.

“So, number 21 is a monster,” Bonawandt said of the Whitney star. “He’s a lot to deal with. Obviously, the goalkeeper was phenomenal; he was making saves all day. [Mecol] was just a big, strong, hard-working guy and we had to be clinical or else he was going to capitalize on our mistakes. That became tough to balance of trying to get the goal, but deal with [Mecol] and the counter.”

Again, Sierra Canyon had more than enough chances to end the game in regulation with the best opportunities coming in the 61st minute when a shot from Becker barely went over the crossbar and a shot from Theodoratos from the left side was pushed away by Ortiz in the 75th minute. He would make eight saves in the game. Sierra Canyon would also take six corner kicks to Whitney’s one.

“We have a good keeper and we need to take advantage of all the stops that he’s making,” Arevalo said. “Again, it’s good to have a backup and the last line of defense and our goalie to be one of the best in Southern California.”

“Our idea was to end the game,” Arevalo later said. “But if it came to penalty kicks, we had total confidence on our challenge. Their goalie, I don’t think was challenged as much as ours was, so we didn’t quite see what he had. But I think we were confident enough that if we made it to penalty [kicks], we would have a good chance. But again, we didn’t want it to get there. We didn’t want to get to overtime.”

The Whitney boys soccer team was attempting to win the school’s fourth team championship in school history. The boys basketball team won the CIF-SS Small Division Championship in 1986 and 1987 and the boys tennis team won the 2003 Division V title. The 2005 boys tennis team fell in the Division V finals and the 2012 boys tennis team did the same in the Division 3 title match.

The boys soccer team also played the entire season with the addition of four girls as Whitney did not field a girls team this season after nine of about 17 or 18 opted out in the early portion of 2021.

“Hopefully, this will transfer to other sports,” Arevalo said. “If Whitney boys can do it with girls, why can’t [other sports]? So hopefully we kind of planted that seed; that all the sports at Whitney have a chance to make it to finals and hopefully they come away with a little better luck than we did. But at least we planted that seed.”