Sports

'Solving Serra' biggest hurdle for Cathedral Catholic field hockey team

From the outside, things look pretty rosy for the Cathedral Catholic field hockey team. Sporting a 19-5-2 record, ranked third overall in the Union-Tribune’s latest CIF San Diego Section poll and heading into next week’s eight-team CIF Open Division Playoffs seeded fourth. There’s just one problem.

Let’s call it “solving Serra.” As in Coach Laurie Berger’s Serra Conquistadors two-time defending CIF Open champion (they won five Division II titles in the six years prior to that) Crusaders. San Diego field hockey’s version of the New England Patriots are not only the undefeated (23-0), No. 1-ranked City Western League champions, (Cathedral Catholic was third with Scripps Ranch second) and riding a phenomenal 75-game winning streak, but they’ve outscored their opponents by a whopping 145-4. Serra prevailed all three times they met the Dons in the regular season, racking up 14 goals without surrendering a single tally. But maybe, just maybe there’s reason to believe Cathedral head coach Vianney Yamada and her crew are getting closer to a “solution.”

After posting, 7-0 and 6-0, routs of the Dons during the first two months of the season, in Wednesday’s regular season finale visiting Serra found the home club a much more stubborn foe, escaping with a 1-0 decision. It was the lowest offensive output of the fall for the Conquistadors, creating plenty of positives for Yamada when evaluating her team’s progress against such a high level measuring stick.

“While it isn’t fun to play a team that beats you up pretty badly, for us, playing Serra twice previously gave us the opportunity to get a good feel for their strengths, weaknesses and game strategy, so we were able to come up with a game plan that forced them to change theirs,” said Yamada. “We wanted to challenge them in a way that allowed us to stay true to our style of play and where it was crucial for every single player to understand and execute in order to see the benefits.

“While the scoreboard didn’t go in our favor, this was a huge ‘win’ for our program and a big tribute to our seniors on their Senior Day.”

Cathedral should pose a solid threat to any opponents in the playoffs. A deep roster with the versatility to attack comfortably from many angles, the Dons are athletic and able to push the tempo of the game. With a solid senior core, headed by Chloe Riddlespurger and Lindsey Biskup, Yamada’s squad can also draw on the experience of playing in last year’s Open Division playoffs. Its first 2017 CIF test comes Tuesday at home against neighborhood rival Canyon Crest Academy, the fifth seed and a foe the Dons are very familiar with, having bested the Ravens, 3-2, on Sept. 23 and 1-0 three days later.Wednesday’s performance could make Cathedral even more imposing in CIF play. “I think this was a perfect time for us to peak and have one of our better games,” said Yamada. “The excitement and energy from this game will get everyone pumped up about the next series of games, starting with Canyon Crest. It’s a welcome confidence boost that leaves us knowing we can beat anyone we get sent out against in the playoffs.”

Even Serra? “Of course, we would love to be able to face Serra again,” Yamada added, knowing that a victory over CCA would likely earn them a fourth shot at the Conquistadors. “To be the best you have to beat the best and they have proven themselves to be the best up to this point.

“Serra is a very disciplined and skilled team. All of their players play with finesse and intensity so beating them would take another huge team effort, a carefully executed game plan and plain out fight until the last whistle.”

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