How much did first-year Head Coach Courtney Spleen’s Torrey Pines field hockey team improve during the 2019 season? Let’s start on Sept. 10 when the youthful Falcons were routed, 9-0, by perennial section power Serra. Eleven days later the same two clubs tangled in tournament play and the Conquistadors again prevailed, this time 5-1.
Since that day, Torrey Pines regrouped, lost just one more game, were perfect (10-0) in winning the Avocado West League title and secured a No. 3 seed in the CIF Open Division bracket. Following a 1-0 quarterfinal triumph over Mission Vista, they came into Thursday’s CIF semi-final riding a 13-game winning streak.
And who was there to meet them? Serra, of course—a team, guided by veteran Head Coach Laurie Berger, that has been to all but one CIF Championship game since 2002. A No. 2 seed that had overwhelmed Westview, 4-0, in its quarterfinal contest.
When it was over Thursday, Nov. 14, the sensational run had ended for Torrey but not until the gritty Falcons forced Serra to overtime before falling, 1-0, concluding their season at 22-4. It was a tough, back-and-forth game that tested both teams’ skill and resilience.
Although not necessarily dominant, Torrey Pines seemed to get the better of the first 30 minutes, earning five penalty corners without surrendering any to their host and also registering the edge in shots on goal.
“I was pleased with our performance in the first half but it again came down to execution,” said Spleen. “We’ve been talking about putting our chances away and we definitely had chances, especially in the first half. We just couldn’t finish them off.”
The second half was a different story as Serra turned up the heat with its stifling midfield defense and had the Falcon cage under siege, garnering six penalty corners and nine shots on goal. But Spleen’s defense kept its poise and freshman goalie Bella Anfuso made several high-quality stops to keep it a scoreless tie through the end of regulation.
“We just started to play really frantically and we had a lot of unforced turnovers that they were able to capitalize on and turn into scoring opportunities,” said Spleen, whose team was shut out just twice this fall, both times by Serra. “They applied a lot of pressure and caused us to make some poor decisions. We really get away from our game.”
Overtime in field hockey vaguely resembles that of the NHL, as the teams engage in a 10-minute, full field 7v7 (as opposed to the standard 11 aside). It was a wide open, free-wheeling segment that clearly examined both sides’ fitness. The two adversaries came out swinging with the knowledge that the first goal would be critical.
Torrey Pines nearly got home in the first minute as junior Faith Choe and freshman Stella Mikolajewski each created solid chances. When they came up empty, Serra resumed its second half command and with 6:18 remaining, speedy midfielder Sophie Everett tucked home a rebound the proved to be the game-winner.
“Reputation plays a ton in a game like this,” suggested Spleen. “Coming in, our players know who this team is, what they’ve accomplished and how many times they’ve been in this situation.
“Especially looking back at those first two games against them, I was really proud of the way we came into today’s game with a tougher mentality, believing that we could do it.”
Falcon defender Paige Boyes, one of just two seniors in the Torrey Pines starting lineup felt good about the way her prep careered ended and where the program’s headed.
“It’s tough, they’re always good but we wanted it badly and played our hearts out,” said Boyes. “We came here to win, but taking them to overtime, I couldn’t have asked for a better game.
“Our new coaching staff blended so well with our team and our chemistry was unreal. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve stressed positive attitude, uplifting each other on and off the field and always getting better.
“We’ll have a lot of returners who will continue that next year and I’m excited to see what it brings.”
Serra will host top-seeded Scripps Ranch in Saturday’s CIF Open Division championship clash starting at 3 p.m.