In the first of two encounters between the two best field hockey teams in the Avocado West League, Torrey Pines proved to be more than Canyon Crest could handle Wednesday night, Oct. 16, defeating the host Ravens, 2-0. In the process prevailing in a highly-entertaining contest, the Falcons earned sole possession of the top rung in the league standings.
The victory improved Coach Courtney Spleen’s club, the San Diego section’s second-ranked team, to 16-3 overall and 4-0 in Avo West play. No. 3 Canyon Crest slipped to 14-4-1 and 3-1. The regular season-ending rematch between the two neighborhood adversaries will be Nov. 5 at Torrey Pines. Both teams have four games between now and then.
This one figured to be a low-scoring affair featuring two quality defenses squaring off. It started out that way with the opening 10 minutes being almost exclusively a midfield skirmish. Torrey Pines drew first blood with 15:16 remaining in the first half. A takeaway just inside the 25-yd. line by explosive freshman Stella Mikolajewski caught CCA off guard, initiating an offensive thrust. She forwarded a nifty pass to junior Hailey Dewey who took two steps and powered a shot into the bottom left corner of the cage for her team-leading eighth goal of the season.
“We were focused all night on putting our balls out wide and finding gaps when we got into the offensive end,” said Dewey. “Stella passed it to me right through a gap between two defenders and I had an open shot from about the stroke mark.” Spleen felt Dewey’s score fit right into the Falcon game plan.
“We knew we had to come out strong in the first half and couldn’t be waiting or get back on our heels against them,” she said. “They have a strong defense and an outstanding goalie so we also knew it would be important to capitalize when we had our chances.
“Getting that first goal early really helped our confidence.” Following the tally, the run of play seemed to migrate from midfield into the Ravens’ end of the field. Although Torrey Pines was unable to add to its advantage, the visitors kept pressure on the Canyon Crest goal for most of the final 15 minutes of the half and still led by one at intermission.
CCA came out with renewed energy after the break but Torrey’s defense was more than up to the task. Consistently getting back with numbers and keeping the Ravens’ attack at a safe distance, the Falcons effectively clogged up the goal front on the few occasions that the home team was able to get within striking range. Spleen was lavish in her praise of the defensive effort.
“Gracie Jimenez is our leader back there and honestly a saving grace the way she was picking up all those loose balls,” said Spleen. “In Gracie, Paige (Boyes) and Philine (Klas) we have a solid three defenders that are really tough to break down when they’re bringing their ‘A’ game.” The midfielders and even the forwards supplied ample support in the final 30 minutes.
“Being down by one, we expected CCA would come out hard in the second half,” explained Spleen. “They were hitting some long balls in for No. 10 (Jamie Ma) so we knew we would have to drop back and really protect the middle to keep them out of the circle.”
In the meantime, the Falcons continued to push offensively and ultimately collected a knockout goal in the final minute. Coming out of a penalty corner, it was a sister act as freshman Smilla Klas and her sophomore sibling Philine, had the last two touches in a well-choreographed passing sequence, the latter accounting for the score.
Canyon Crest knew it would be a hard-fought game coming in and got what it expected. “Nothing surprised me,” said Head Coach Kiana Duncan. “They are very talented, they know how to score and, unfortunately, we didn’t play a whole lot of offense today. They beat us—that’s about it.” TP’s two goals equaled the highest number allowed in any game this year by CCA, but looking forward Duncan seemed to indicate that being able to deal with the Falcon defense may be more critical.
“Their defense did a good job of surrounding us,” added Duncan. “They have two of their best players, Erin Poe and Gracie Jimenez, back there and we’re going to need to strategize so that we can either find fouls or work it around them next time.”
Spleen talked beforehand about the need for her team to execute in the circle and finish corners. Her team did both but she pointed to a more basic factor as the difference Wednesday.
“We’ve been preaching since the beginning that it comes down to not just having the skill but the intensity—playing hard for the full 60 minutes,” said Spleen. “That’s been our biggest thing and I felt like we did that tonight.”