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605 LEAGUE GIRLS SOCCER CERRITOS RALLIES LATE IN THE FIRST HALF, COMES OUT STRONG IN SECOND HALF TO CAPTURE LEAGUE TITLE

BY LOREN KOPFF
@LORENKOPFF ON TWITTER

The last time a Cerritos High girls soccer team won a league title, it was in the Suburban League while a good portion of the school’s athletic program was in the final year of being a member of the Mission Valley League. It was the 1997-1998 season and the Lady Dons, coached by Chris Alexander, had stars like Heidi Bork, who scored 40 goals, and Lisa Herman, who tallied 25 goals.

Cerritos went 18-5 that season and won 11 of 12 league games, scored 119 goals and yielded 27. Now, 21 years later, the girls soccer program can call themselves league champions again. Trailing Artesia High by a pair of goals with less than 10 minutes to go before halftime, Cerritos quickly responded for three goals before the break, then added two more within the first eight minutes of the second half to knock off the Lady Pioneers 5-2 this past Monday. Cerritos, which then defeated Oxford Academy 3-1 this past Wednesday, ends the regular season 16-2-4 overall and 10-0 in the 605 League. It’s also the school’s sixth girls soccer league championship.

“For these girls, it’s a lifetime,” chuckled Cerritos head coach Robert Adams. “We play the teams who are in front of us and the leagues who are in front of us. So, the 605 League is a great league; it’s an honor to be able to play in it and win this first [title]. The girls are tremendous. It’s very rewarding for them to be able to play through them and we would have tried to do the same thing regardless of whatever league we were in.” 

“Winning the league title means so much to me,” said senior forward Erika Rizal. “I’ve been with these girls all four years and it means so much. I love these girls so much and I can’t believe we won a league title, finally.”

Artesia and Cerritos had always been fierce competitors when they were in the Suburban League, often playing crucial late season games which would determine third place, fourth place or a spot in the CIF-Southern Section playoffs. But in this game, Artesia needed to win its final two games of the regular season to claim the league title. And early on, it was going Artesia’s way. One minute after Adams was issued a yellow card for arguing to the referees about the chippy play, senior midfielder Michelle Abarca followed up on a rebound from a misplayed ball to give Artesia a 1-0 lead 25 minutes in. Seven minutes later, the Lady Pioneers added on when freshman forward Dulce Alamilla took a long-range shot that curled just inside the upper left corner of the net.

“We were not surprised by what Artesia would try to do and what they’re capable of being able to do,” Adams said. “We made some mistakes and Artesia certainly punished us for those mistakes.”

For the Lady Dons to be trailing in any league game is a story as they had entered the game outscoring league foes 82-0 and had yielded 14 goals on the season to that point. But, as quickly as Artesia scored, the host rebounded in fine fashion.

“Those goals…that’s a good team,” Adams said. “Artesia is going to push forward, they have some talent to be able to do that and by doing that, it helped us a lot. Would we have liked to shut Artesia out? Obviously, that’s our goal every single game, just to keep a clean sheet. But if you’re going to give goals up, it helps tests the character and it helps push the team a little bit that way too. And it woke everybody up.”

“Having no goals against [us] was definitely one of our goals,” Rizal said. “This Artesia game…we knew that it might end it, but that was always our goal, every single game. As they scored two goals, I’m like, ‘we have to pick it up’. I have to encourage these girls to pick it up. And right on, we started scoring two goals.”

A minute after Artesia scored, Rizal took a pass from senior defender Julia Couto and scored for the 13th time this season. Five minutes later, sophomore forward Kylee Castro sent a pass to freshman midfielder Persephone Diep, who raced towards Artesia senior goalkeeper Julia Calderon, already standing by the top of the penalty box. Diep managed to get past Calderon, who has injured on the play, and easily knocked the ball through the net to tie the game. Then in stoppage time, Diep added what would be the game-winner off a pass from Couto.

“We’re not really known for that kind of range,” Adams said. “Persephone is a freshman with a tremendous amount of talent. And, one of her skills is she has long range and is not afraid to take those shots. So, she did, and we caught the goalkeeper out.”

The Lady Dons, ranked second in Division 4, kept the momentum going seven minutes into the second half when Diep was stopped by sophomore goalkeeper Jizelle Velazquez, who had replaced Calderon in the first half. But when the ball trickled loose and was straddling the goal line, junior forward Jayda Anusasanananta was there to tap it in for her 14th goal of the season. Then one minute later, sophomore midfielder Marisa Couto scored on a rebound after a shot from Diep hit the crossbar. In all, Cerritos took 14 shots on goal as opposed to six from Artesia.

“We have a big group of seniors and they’re all really heavy contributors,” Adams said. “Julia knew exactly what she was doing, and Erika did exactly what she was supposed to do. Once our leadership started scoring and relaxed some of our younger players, we were able to start punishing them from more than one spot.”

“I think all throughout the four years, we’ve always built up every year with our hard work and I definitely think we deserved this league title,” Rizal said. “Even though it’s in the 605 League, these girls worked their butts off in practice and in each game and I’m so happy to be leading them as captain this year for all of them.”

Cerritos, which had always gone on the road for either a wild card or first round playoff game because it would finish in third or fourth place, will host its first playoff game since 1998 on Wednesday while the Lady Pioneers, who blanked Pioneer High 1-0 this past Wednesday, finished the regular season at 11-5-5, 7-2-1 and will either play in a wild card game on Monday or a first round game on Wednesday. The CIF-Southern Section will reveal the playoff brackets on Saturday.

“Regardless of whether they’re for first, second, third, fourth, a CIF spot, Artesia and Cerritos have been linked together for 25 years,” Adams said. “And we play really important games often. Because of that, it is a rivalry. I think it’s a respectful rivalry. They’re very good and they’re very good on their field, too.”

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