Torrey Pines girls upend Cathedral Catholic, grab berth in CIF soccer finals

Torrey Pines junior Tatum O'Coyne scored the game's only goal.
Torrey Pines junior Tatum O’Coyne scored the game’s only goal.
(Ken Grosse)

Combining a stifling midfield defense and some opportunistic play offensively, the No. 4-seeded Torrey Pines girls soccer team knocked off top seed and defending section champion Cathedral Catholic, 1-0, in the Tuesday, May 25, CIF Open Division semi-finals.

The Falcons (11-3-5) now advance into the Friday, May 28, title match against league rival La Costa Canyon. Start time is 7:30 p.m. at Mission Bay High School. La Costa Canyon, the No. 3 seed, earned its spot in the championship tilt with a 2-0 road decision over No. 2 Eastlake.

TP's Carolina Nelson and CC's Kelsey Branson battle in the midfield.
TP’s Carolina Nelson and CC’s Kelsey Branson battle in the midfield.
(Ken Grosse)

The semi-final shaped up as a tight, well-balanced battle between the two Del Mar Heights neighbors and a scoreless first 40 minutes reflected that expectation. Cathedral Catholic appeared to have the upper hand in the early going but as the first half progressed, Torrey Pines began to subtly control the midfield and gained confidence taking a more physical approach.

“We game plan for every single game we’ve played and towards the end we’ve finally gotten everyone on the same page in terms of what we want,” said Torrey Pines Head Coach Martyn Hansford, who’s guided the Falcons to a pair of CIF titles. “We know against teams like Cathedral Catholic or La Costa Canyon, you’ve got to match their physicality—you’ve got to be prepared to stand up and win the battle.

Sophomore Ellie Davidson was a key part of the Falcon offense and had an assist on the winning goal.
Sophomore Ellie Davidson was a key part of the Falcon offense and had an assist on the winning goal.
(Ken Grosse)

“Once you engage in the physical battle it’s a case of following the tactics and the girls did that to a tee.”

Just 4:30 into the second half the Falcons’ hard work paid off. Off a counterattack, speedy sophomore winger Ellie Davidson, single marked on the left side, pushed a cross to senior teammate Tatum O’Coyne at the top of the box. O’Coyne shook a lone defender with a quick shimmy and took the time to measure a relatively easy strike just inside the right post. It was her team-leading eighth of the season.

When asked about the goal, she distributed credit widely. “We played them (Cathedral) to a 0-0 tie earlier this season and we knew they were very strong in the midfield, particularly in the air,” said O’Coyne. “We were determined to win every ball in the midfield. I think we were successful in that regard and that seemed to help us in the attack—on the goal, they got the ball to Ellie and she made a nice pass.

The Dons' Delaney Diltz (5) battles Ella Emri and O'Coyne of Torrey Pines.
The Dons’ Delaney Diltz (5) battles Ella Emri and O’Coyne of Torrey Pines.
(Ken Grosse)

“I think our team has worked a lot this year to not just get better as individuals but as a whole and today was a total team effort. It was just great.”

Cathedral Catholic, which saw its overall record drop to 11-2-4, made an impressive run in winning the 2020 CIF banner, followed that up with a Western League championship this season and had outscored opponents, 34-4, in the 11 games preceding yesterday’s skirmish with Torrey Pines. Head Coach Dawn Lee, mentor of 10 CIF winners, liked her team’s chances but made a halftime prediction that came true.

“We knew they were a good team and the game definitely had that playoff intensity,” she said. “I told the girls it’s gonna be one little mistake. It’s going to be a 1-0 game either them or us—they put one of their chances away and we didn’t.

Stella Mikolajewksi (15) and O'Coyne celebrate their team's victory.
Stella Mikolajewksi (15) and O’Coyne celebrate their team’s victory.
(Ken Grosse)

“Even though it was a short season, it’s been a long road just to get here. I’m super proud of how we played. The effort was there until the end and sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way.”

Hansford was generous in praising his team’s performance and eager for Friday’s clash. “We used the word ‘control’ a lot in our preparation for today,” he said. “We were able to deny them space, make them more predictable and limit their set piece opportunities which is where they are so dangerous.

“Now we have one more game. It’s what we’d hoped and dreamed for since the start of the season and we believed from Day One that we could achieve it. I’m so proud of our team.

So now, it’s that last game for all the marbles. Second-year Head Coach Ryan Morissey’s LCC squad has handed Torrey two of its three losses, the most recent a 3-0 romp on May 12. From Hansford’s point of view, it’s a great way to finish.

“I love it,” smiled Hansford, Facing LCC is a chance for redemption. They played a great game at their place but we know where we fell short a little bit.

“When we don’t win, we learn and I think the growth from our defeats has provided fantastic motivation. It’s going to be two outstanding teams and the one that takes advantage of its chances will win. We’re looking forward to it.”

Both Torrey Pines (2016-2017) and La Costa Canyon (2014-15) have captured a pair of CIF Open Division crowns. The team prevailing in Friday’s clash will be the first school to nab three. O’Coyne set the tone for the season finale.

“I am so excited and so happy,” she said. “Last year we lost in the semi-final so to finally win and be able to go to the championship is exciting—it’s what we’ve been working and waiting for all season.

“Playing LCC makes it even bigger. I’ll be nervous but third time’s a charm—we’re gonna get them.”