Avocado League West field hockey teams more than ready for CIF Playoffs


A lot can happen in six days. Just ask the field hockey teams and coaches in the Avocado League West. A week ago Monday (Oct. 30), that world looked pretty cut-and-dried with first-year head coach Lucy Busby’s Torrey Pines squad cruising along undefeated, ranked among the top 10 in the section, two games to go. Day at the beach.

But foregone conclusions can sometimes be dangerous and things started getting a little crazy last Wednesday, Nov. 1, when third place host La Costa Canyon, last year’s Avocado West runner-up, romped past second place defending champion Canyon Crest Academy, 3-0.

“We were frustrated by our 2-1 loss to Canyon Crest earlier in the season,” said Mavericks’ head coach Casey Wollbrinck following the win. “The team was amped up because it was Senior Night and came out with a little extra fire. We were really hungry for a victory.” Playing perhaps its best game of the year, LCC’s triumph left both teams with two losses, apparently handing the league championship to Torrey Pines.

Two days later at home, CCA showed that it was not quite ready to abdicate its league crown, getting an “unexpected” game-winning goal from senior Blake Zimmer with 13 minutes to go in a 2-1 upset of Torrey Pines. Happy Ravens’ head coach Kiana Duncan admitted afterward that the decisive tally came from “a spot I’m always telling them not to shoot from (the baseline) but I guess every goal is a good goal,” and hero Zimmer said that, “I really wasn’t trying to score but wanted to center it so someone else could get a better shot. I’m not sure how it got through but we’ll take it.”

Duncan had no issue with the way the Ravens bounced back from the La Costa Canyon defeat. “I was so proud of our team because I know how hard they’ve worked,” she said. “What happened at LCC was not our best game and when we walked on that field against Torrey Pines I knew we could turn it around.”

Those two results meant Torrey Pines, then 6-1, was one game up on LCC and CCA, both 5-2, with one game to go. At home Monday afternoon, Canyon Crest pushed past fourth place San Dieguito Academy, 1-0, leaving that evening’s La Costa Canyon-Torrey Pines skirmish to determine whether the Falcons would be the outright league title holder or it would end up in a three-way tie.

Torrey Pines, a 2-0 victor in the first match-up with their longtime rivals, drew first blood in this one when senior Arielle Shahrabani dented the cage in the 13th minute. LCC got the equalizer shortly thereafter with senior CJ Jones scoring from a sitting position in front of the goal. Junior Kristin Bitter put the Falcons back on top with less than four minutes remaining in the first half and despite a resolute second half effort by the Mavericks, that’s the way it ended, 2-1, Torrey Pines. Both coaches were in a positive state-of-mind in the aftermath.

“LCC is always good competition and they had the momentum offensively there at the end but we were able to hold them off,” said Busby. “It feels good. We sat down at the start of the season and the team set its own goals. This was their goal. It feels really good to have coached a team that achieved one of its goals. I’m proud of them.”

Wollbrinck likes the way her team is heading. “I definitely have a good feeling,” she said. “We have for sure hit our stride and this is the right time to do it. Compared to earlier in the season, we’re just connecting better and understanding the higher level concepts of the game —knowing when to shoot, when to pass, when to pass back and how to create more time for themselves. We’re passing with a purpose as opposed to just hitting the ball and hoping.

“Communication has become a strength. We didn’t talk as much at the beginning of the season and that has allowed us to elevate our play. It feels like we’re really coming into our own.” And with the CIF Playoffs just around the corner that’s something all three teams are hoping is the case.

Snagging the fifth and seventh seeds respectively, Canyon Crest (15-8) and Torrey Pines (16-8) will start play in the eight-team CIF Open Division next Tuesday, both on the road. Canyon Crest will hook up with neighboring Cathedral Catholic, the fourth seed, while Torrey Pines draws No. 2 seed Rancho Buena Vista. Playing in the Division I tournament, La Costa Canyon (11-10) travels to Hilltop Saturday in a clash of eighth and ninth seeds. Busby and Wollbrinck both believe their teams are ready for the challenge

“We’ve worked hard and earned our spot in the Open Division by facing the best competition in North County,” says Busby, whose club dropped a 4-1 decision to Avocado East champion RBV when the two met at the Serra Tournament in September. “CIF adds a little more pressure and it’s going to be an uphill battle but I feel good about where we are. I’m confident in our team.”

“I feel strong about our chances,” says Wollbrinck. “In the end it will come down to focus and that’s one thing I like about our team. They never quit. When they get down, they don’t hang their heads. They stay hungry. We’ve had four games that have gone triple overtime and proven we have the ability to finish.”