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CIF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA GIRLS SOCCER REGIONAL FINALS
By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
According to senior midfielder Kelly McKittrick, the 2016-2017 Valley Christian High senior class motto is “Making History” and that pretty much sums up the girls soccer team this season. The Lady Crusaders were singing a song and it was the second verse, same as the first when they faced Grace Brethren High last Saturday afternoon for the California Interscholastic Federation Southern California Division 5 Regional Championship.
Sophomore forward Kennedy Wesley scored twice, just as she did the previous Saturday in the Southern Section Division 6 finals against these same Lancers, and those tallies held up in a 2-1 victory at Crusader Field. V.C. ends the best season in school history with a 24-3-3 mark.
“This was the cherry on the top,” said V.C. head coach Kim Looney. “Our goal was to win a CIF championship and we got that. We went into state just taking each game as what it was. We were tired, we were worn out. But they kept pushing through. I think today they came in with the attitude of we went this far, let’s see how far we can go.”
“Obviously, the emotions are completely high,” McKittrick said. “It’s such a blessing that we’ve done so well and honestly, it’s completely unreal.
“I think the real difference was we knew they were going to be out for blood and that we wanted to defend what we had last Saturday,” McKittrick later added. “We knew we would have to push a lot harder and defend what we did.”
The game was nearly déjà vu from the first meeting when Wesley scored twice within the first 16 minutes of the game, followed by a penalty kick from Sammi Fisher early in the second half. This time around, Wesley scored once in the first half when she headed in a corner kick taken from junior defender Marysa Garner in the 23rd minute. It was one of four shots the Lady Crusaders took in the first half.
Then three minutes into the second half, Wesley did what she’s been doing all season long and converting on long free kick. It’s the third time in eight postseason games she has scored multiple goals and she caps off the season with 23 goals with all but three coming in the final 15 games.
“I think my gymnastics background really helped with that,” Wesley said. “We had to have strength really everywhere. So, I think that’s translated a lot here and I think repetition with the free kicks too has also helped with the power and the placement.”
The Lancers ruined V.C.’s bid for a 17th shutout when Fisher got a shot off that went past junior goalie Destinee Montenegro. But Grace Brethren, which turned up the heat a bit in the second half, couldn’t get anything else from the other four second half shots it took.
“We were a little nervous about it,” Looney said of Fisher’s goal. “You could just tell by the way we played. It was just one of those goals…she had maybe four feet and she got it in. She’s a good player, and I think our kids were taken back by that a little bit and we kind of sat back on our heels. But we pushed through.”
“I was nervous, but I knew that this team was definitely not going to give up,” McKittrick said. “So, I had hope in my team for sure.”
But there wasn’t much to be nervous about as the stingy V.C. defense, which has yielded 20 goals this season, seven since Dec. 17, stood pat the remaining 33 minutes. Part of the reason why V.C. was successful against the Lancers again could be attributed to playing against them the prior week and knowing what their tendencies were, outside of Fisher and company.
“We knew they would come at us in one of two formations,” Looney said. “We had seen tape on when they had played Fowler on Thursday. So, we were prepared to adjust to both formations whatever they were. They came out with a 4-5-1, which meant that [sophomore midfielder] Christina [Pollard] was on [Sammi Fisher] and [junior defender] Caitlyn [Wind] was on [Emma Hopkins].”
“This week we were able to learn a lot more about them, especially after watching our last game [with them],” Wesley said. “We knew where we needed to take advantage as a team and where we needed to watch as a team.”
Although this was a regional final, the state does not have a true North-South championship game due to the lack of teams from the other side of the state. Thus, the Lady Crusaders also became state champions. It’s the fourth state championship for V.C. athletics with football winning the top honor in 1986 and the girls volleyball program winning it in 1997 and 1998. But the question remains if the young team of two seniors, eight juniors, four sophomores and six freshmen had enough in them for one more game against someone from the north?
“I can’t do the what if’s,” Looney said. “They’ve given everything. We know this is the end and this is what it’s got to be. I would always put money on them to win. They seem to pull it out in the end.”
“I think it’s even more special to win state,” Wesley said. “The fact that we were able to play the same team and get the same result was incredible, especially knowing that them coming off a loss, they would really be after us.”
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