The defending San Diego CIF Open Division champion Torrey Pines girls soccer team showed last week that it might be priming for a repeat performance come March. Coach Martyn Hansford’s Falcons raced undefeated through five games at the annual 16-team, Cathedral Catholic-hosted Butch Lee Memorial Tournament, knocking off Orange County power Mater Dei (Santa Ana), 1-0, in Saturday’s championship game.
Torrey Pines, now 7-0-1 on the season, defeated La Jolla, Steele Canyon and Del Norte in pool play to earn a Saturday morning semi-final date with Temecula Great Oak, which came in 4-1-3. After spotting the Wolfpack the first goal, Hansford’s club scored three in a row en route to a 3-2 triumph.
That paired the Falcons with Mater Dei, a talented, well-organized side perennially among the elite in the CIF’s Southern Section. The Monarchs were CIF Division I runner-ups in 2016-17, falling in penalty kicks in the championship match.
Saturday’s afternoon clash lived up to expectations. Torrey Pines broke through late in the first half with the goal-scoring sequence being initiated by a Sydney Sanchez pass out of midfield to Chloe Gallo on the right wing. The tall senior threaded a cross to Tatum Lenain in the box and the sophomore drilled a left-footer past Monarch keeper Kelly McManus for the only score of the contest.
“I saw a tiny split in the defense and called for the ball from Chloe,” said Lenain afterward. “She put it in and I knew if I got any shot on target it would be hard for the keeper to save. Luckily, I got it on target.”
The score seemed to energize the Falcons who dominated the run of play in the second half. They kept the Mater Dei offense bottled up over most of the final 40 minutes, but had to rely on a miraculous play by freshman Carly Reeves in the waning moments to clinch the decision. A late Monarch push to tie resulted in a short range shot that TP keeper Arielle Hernquist roamed out to block right of the net but the rebound bounced back in front of the goal. Mater Dei had a perfect chance for the equalizer from point blank range but was turned away when Reeves laid out to rebuff the attempt.
Coming into the season, Hansford had many unanswered questions about his young and relatively inexperienced squad. While the tourney victory certainly made clear the Falcons have some athletic and technical mettle, the head coach was more pleased with the intangibles he observed.
“The biggest thing I learned this week is that we’ve got the character and that’s what we always look for,” said Hansford. “I think if we’ve got that, that’s what we can build on. Without that, nothing else is going to happen.
“We demonstrated a ‘never say die’ attitude. That’s a pretty good team we played out there today.”
Lenain was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. She earned and then converted a penalty kick that gave Torrey Pines its second goal against Great Oak and Friday night scored on a 30-yard strike into the upper corner that Hansford called “one of the best goals I’ve seen in high school soccer.” He knows he’s got someone who can consistently create goal-scoring opportunities.
“Tatum’s got a scorer’s mentality and she’s not shy about shooting,” added Hansford. “They don’t all go in, but like they say ‘you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket,’ so we give her carte blanche. She knows when to shoot. For such a young player, she’s got such a high soccer IQ.”
Aside from the first place trophy, Hansford felt the tournament, named after iconic San Diego prep soccer coach Butch Lee, provided invaluable long term benefits for his side. “We only get two knockout tournament opportunities all year, this and then CIF,” he said. “Everything else is one-off games. Learning how to reach and win a tournament final like this has massive value and gives us tons of confidence. I think confidence is huge, especially in girls’ soccer.”
The Falcons have five remaining non-league contests before opening Avocado West play, Jan. 17, against San Dieguito Academy. Torrey Pines went undefeated in finishing atop the Avocado West table last year.
Also at the tournament, Cathedral Catholic was eliminated from its own event Friday afternoon, dropping a 2-1 decision to Mater Dei in pool play after going up, 1-0, early.