In a battle of two teams with first-year head coaches, Torrey Pines used a stout defensive effort and three goals from freshman Stella Mikolajewski to easily handle host Cathedral Catholic, 5-1, Thursday, Sept. 19. The win was the sixth in a row for the Falcons and pushed their season record to 8-1. The Dons dropped to 6-6.
Both squads are very young with just three seniors each. Torrey Pines, coming off a season in which it tied for the championship of the Avocado League West and reached the CIF Open Division semi-finals, definitely has a leg up in terms of experience and Head Coach Courtney Spleen is happy with the way things have progressed in the first month of the season.
“We’re definitely moving in the right direction,” said Spleen, an East Coast transplant who was an assistant coach at Cathedral Catholic last season. “I think we struggled at the beginning, just learning to play together.
“But now that we’ve learned how each other operates, our communication level has raised exponentially along with our hustle and overall chemistry.”
All five of the Falcon goals Thursday were produced by freshmen. Julia Mendez put Torrey Pines ahead with a goal just 5:15 into the contest. After junior Milla Beckwith knotted it up for Cathedral less than a minute later, Mikolajewski struck twice in two minutes and Torrey Pines went into the break up, 3-1. With an assist from junior Erin Poe, Smilla Klas found the back of the cage off a corner with 14 minutes left in the game and Klas fed Mikolajewski for the final tally with just over nine minutes remaining.
Spleen was pleased with what her charges showed her. “We’ve got some great shooters at the top and put 33 shots on cage today,” she said. “Three of our goals came off of corners, which we practice a lot because we want to take advantage of the heavy shooters we have.
“Now it’s a matter of putting more of those shots in the cage. We need to be more aggressive in the circle, get those touches right on the goalie’s pads and just finish better.” The Falcons’ rookie coach was also impressed with the scoring display put on by Mikolajewski.
“Stella’s a hustler, works really hard and is great at recovering,” said Spleen. “She needs some work on her stick skills but that will come. She’s got a great upside.” For her part, Mikolajewski is excited about just being on the roster.
“I’m very surprised, honestly,” said the young forward when asked about her performance so far this fall. “I didn’t even know I could make varsity. When I did, I just figured I needed to go out there and prove myself.
“I just pushed myself hard. I’ve been watching the more experienced girls, seen what they do, try to follow their lead and execute.”
The Falcons didn’t need a great deal of offense in earning their eighth victory because the defense kept the Dons bottled up and the ball on the Torrey Pines side of center for most of the afternoon. A key piece of Spleen’s defensive unit is junior Erin Poe, now in her third year on the varsity and a good barometer when it comes to evaluating the current team.
“We’ve got a lot of new people who are bringing a lot of new energy on the field and they’ve adapted well,” said Poe. “I think we all thought this was going to be a rebuilding year, having lost so many seniors, but the energy and drive to win is better than last year and we’re really excited.
“We want to win the Avocado West League which would put us in position to make the CIF Open Division playoffs. If we keep improving, our goal would be to win CIF.”
On the other side of the field, new Head Coach Katie Fixsen, who had a 10-year run as head coach at Mt. Carmel before moving to Cathedral Catholic, took over a real rebuilding situation. The Cathedral program had sunk to just 28 total players (all teams) in 2018, a figure the Dons brought up to 38 this season. Twenty-one of those are freshmen, foretelling a bright future while meaning there will likely be some stormy days in the interim.
“We have a really interesting schedule,” said Fixsen smiling. “We play some teams that are very beatable, some teams it will take a huge effort to defeat and a few teams that will be really, really difficult to win against.
“We wanted the girls to play a variety of different opponents. Playing top level teams like Torrey Pines and Canyon Crest will allow us to see our gaps, we’ll address them at practice and grow from them instead of just dominating weaker teams.”
Torrey Pines will try to extend its winning streak Saturday, Sept. 21, at the second weekend of the annual Serra Tournament. They will open with a morning match-up with Newport Harbor at 9:15 a.m.. Cathedral Catholic is back in action next Tuesday, Sept. 24, hosting Rancho Bernardo at 4:45 p.m.