Just five months ago, Cathedral Catholic High’s senior-heavy girls soccer team came together to keep one of the most amazing runs in area prep sports history going, winning its fourth consecutive San Diego Section title and extending its streak of title game appearance to a stunning 19 straight seasons.
Now the Dons’ recently graduated seniors are in the process of scattering across the county in a year in which the program is sending players to four-year colleges in unprecedented numbers.
Seven of the team’s eight graduates are going on to play at four-year colleges. Six are going to Div. I programs, one to an NAIA program. The other is a 4.2 student going to Loyola Marymount University of Los Angeles on an Academic Scholarship.
Remarkably, Cathedral Catholic has sent 15 players to four-year colleges -12 to Div. I programs - in the last three years.
This year’s total, however, is exceptional even by Cathedral Catholic standards.
“Five was pretty amazing,” Cathedral Catholic coach Dawn Lee said of the 2006 team’s vaunted “Fab Five” that went on to play at Div. I programs. “This (year) is just insane.”
The on-field craziness culminated with the 2008 Dons going 25-2-4 and winning the inaugural Div. III state title.
The Dons finished the season ranked fourth in the nation - in all divisions - by the Adidas-sponsored National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
But the jubilation has quieted as players prepare for their transitions.
University of Texas-bound forward/defender/midfielder Courtney “Coco” Goodson said she planned to move to Austin by the end of July. She said several teammates had left earlier I the month.
“We were such a tight class, we all went to events together and we’re still going to keep in touch,” said Goodson, the Western League’s Player of the Year.
Goodson is among three former Dons leaving the state.
Forward/midfielder Michelle Spacciapolli, the All-CIF Div. III Player of the Year, and arguably the county’s best player, is headed to Boston College.
Forward/midfielder Kristen Whipple North Dakota State.
Defender/midfielder Alex Sitta is headed to USC. Defender/midfielder Danika Johnson and forward/midfielder Alissa Sanchez are headed to UC Santa Barbara.
Forward/midfielder Tamara Chagas will play for Concordia of Irvine, an NAIA school, and midfielder/defender Kellyann Cavaretta is headed to LMU on an academic scholarship.
Although playing at four-year colleges is the ultimate reward for years of playing year-round soccer, separating from lifelong friends has created unexpectedly bittersweet feelings.
“I think it’s just starting to hit us now that we’re leaving,” Sitta said. “Four or five of us have been playing together since we were 8, so there’s definitely some mixed emotions.”
The feelings are especially mixed because the team grew so close, a program trademark Lee said she makes a point of trying to instill.
“It was a huge part of our success,” Goodson said. “We all knew each other so well. We knew we had to come together as a class and perform well, and at the same time we had fun because we’re all friends.”
The senior class grew especially close because the team’s nucleus started at University High of San Diego, before the campus moved to its current picturesque Carmel Valley campus in 1996.
“Uni was such a big name, and we really wanted to take that Uni name and bring it to Cathedral,” Sitta said. “The campus is different, but the team and how we carry ourselves is exactly the same. We’re united.”
Lee attributes the team’s success in large part to tradition. Lee has been involved with the program for more than 20 years. She took over the program for her father, Butch Lee, who died of cancer in 1998.
But with the tradition of winning, comes a pressure to win.
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure,” Goodson said.
“We’ve won it every year, so we didn’t want to be that senior class that loses it.”
For all her program’s success, Lee said she values the contribution she’s made to helping develop quality individuals more than soccer talent.
“It’s more about the bonds and the friendships we make; that’s more important to me,” Lee said. “The winning part’s great, but if you don’t have any of that, it doesn’t matter.”
Another part of the Dons tradition is getting caught up, when the Dons have their annual alumni game, an event followed by a dinner where ex-Dons tell current players about what they’re doing and things once were.
“It’s amazing just to hear where everybody’s gone and what they’ve done in their life,” Goodson said. “They’re all so spread out, yet they all come back.”