Freshman Stella Mikolajewksi scored a pair of goals and the host Torrey Pines field hockey team held off a late comeback attempt by Canyon Crest to defeat the Ravens, 3-2, and claim the outright championship of the Avocado West League Tuesday afternoon.
The victory improved the second-ranked Falcons to 21-3 on the season and allowed them to finish undefeated (8-0) in the Avo West. Canyon Crest, spotted two notches below Torrey Pines in the most recent section rankings, closes the regular season at 18-5-1 (6-2), second on the league table.
The operative word Tuesday was “outright.” After losing to Canyon Crest in last year’s season finale, Torrey Pines had to share the league crown with its neighborhood rival. The sting from that fact has festered for a year and there was only one way to sooth it.
“This was something the girls really wanted, especially after tying last season,” said first-year Head Coach Courtney Spleen. “Winning league was one of their biggest goals and it’s awesome to be able to see them do it in my first year.
“Being such a young team with only two senior starters, I’m really happy with the way the lineup progressed and learned to play together as the year went on.”
Torrey Pines never trailed and although they controlled the run of play for most of the contest, could never really put the Ravens away. The Falcons were camped out in the CCA end most of the opening half and earned a rash of penalty corners (they had 13 for the game, nine in the first half). Finally, with 3:54 remaining, Mikolajewski hammered home a short range shot after a scrum in the goal front, giving the home team a 1-0 lead with her team-leading 10th goal.
“We were dominating but their goalie and defense are both really, really good,” said Spleen. “We got a bunch of corners and a lot shots on goal but need to do a better job of finishing those.”
Spleen’s club was ready to take that one-goal lead into halftime when Canyon Crest offered a stunning response, senior Lindsay Ewing scoring off a feed from sophomore Stella Baum with a mere 25 seconds left. It was clearly a momentum-lifter for the Ravens but may have stirred up their opponents just as much.
The Falcons began the second half in much the same fashion they’d performed in the first 30 minutes, buzzing the goal and creating chances. They clicked at 19:51 when a long pass straight down the middle of the field got on the stick of Gracie Jimenez inside the circle. The junior, who had just one goal coming in, stickhandled briefly with her back to the goal before wheeling around to discover herself one-on-one with CCA goalie Annie Daruwala. Jimenez found the low corner and Torrey was back on top.
“It was a pretty interesting goal,” said Jimenez with a smile. “For a moment, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it seemed like I had a lot of time. I spun around, nobody was marking me and I got it into the corner.”
Thirteen minutes later, Mikolajewski, standing all alone on the doorstep of the goal, collected a nifty cross cage pass from junior Faith Choe and backhanded it in for her second goal of the day.
“Stella is so fast, so aggressive and as a freshman she’s really stepped up,” said Spleen. “She works hard on the practice field and that translates to the games.”
The Falcons didn’t have much time to enjoy their good fortune because CCA once again countered. It took a mere 33 seconds to reduce the deficit back to one, Baum converting a pass from junior captain Jamie Ma. Duncan’s squad pushed hard for an equalizer and seemed to have Torrey Pines wobbling but the Falcons, led by the heady play of junior defender Erin Poe, calmed the storm and ran out the clock.
“Yeah, I was a definitely a little nervous,” admitted Spleen. “You’re up, 3-1, with six minutes to go and you think you have a comfortable lead but they did a great job of showing just how quickly and easily you can score a goal and turn things around.”
On the immediate horizon are the CIF Open Division playoffs. Canyon Crest will certainly join Torrey Pines in the eight-team field and based on what happened Tuesday, it would not be appropriate to dismiss either team’s potential in that setting.
CCA lost 2-0 at home to Torrey three weeks ago, looking sluggish and out-matched. It was a different Raven squad that showed up this time around, more motivated and aggressive. Head Coach Kiana Duncan and her players are pleased with the direction the squad is trending.
“I definitely feel better than I did after our last meeting,” said Duncan, whose team won the 2018 CIF Division I title in her second year at the helm. “We were able to answer.”
The Ravens standout senior goalie, Daruwala, who stopped nine Torrey shots, critiqued her own play but was also looking ahead afterward. “I think I should have stopped that first goal today but the last two were just situations where they did a good job of working around me,” she said. “As a team, I think we’re on the right path and are capable of beating them if we played again.
“We’ve done it before and it’s just a matter of staying out of our own heads and playing our best.”
Duncan feels her team, which was playing without steady defender Danielle Anapoell, can continue to improve. “Annie was outstanding, as always, and our defense is a plus, particularly Carolina Ceribelli, who was blocking almost every ball that came in there today,” said Duncan. “We’ve just got to make sure we’re a little bit tighter at the back, always marking and when we do turn it over on them defensively be ready to outlet and have people in the right spots.”
CIF pairings will be set Nov. 6 and first round Open Division play starts Nov. 12.