Late tally provides margin for Torrey Pines in league field hockey opener vs. CCA

Junior Smilla Klas starred for Torrey Pines in Wednesday night's win over CCA.
Junior Smilla Klas starred for Torrey Pines in Wednesday night’s win over CCA.
(Ken Grosse)

In the 2021 Avocado West field hockey opener Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 6, Torrey Pines scored in the waning moments of regulation to edge host Canyon Crest Academy, 2-1, in a meeting of teams presumed to be the league’s two best.

Depending on which poll you prefer, Torrey Pines and Canyon Crest are ranked No. 3 and 4 respectively in San Diego and both consider themselves CIF title contenders come post-season. The victory lifted Torrey Pines to 12-3 on the season while CCA dropped to 10-5. It was the Falcons’ second decision over the Ravens this year (the first was a 2-1, Sept. 25 result in the Canyon Hills Tournament) and their sixth in a row in the series.

Torrey came out flying from the outset, but despite controlling the run of play and creating numerous chances, failed to score as the first quarter ended scoreless. The Falcons kept their foot on the pedal but in the mid-stages of the second period, Canyon Crest seemed to find its footing and things became competitive.

Falcon goalie Bella Anfuso celebrates with teammates.
Falcon goalie Bella Anfuso celebrates with teammates.
(Ken Grosse)

With 8:40 remaining in the half, CCA crew first blood. When the Torrey Pines defense whiffed on a clearing play, the ball ended up on the stick of senior co-captain Jessica Connell who took a touch to get an angle and then sent it past goalie Bella Anfuso. It was the second of the season for Connell who was playing with a broken bone and a foam-wrapped cast on her right hand.

“That was very frustrating,” said third-year Torrey Pines Head Coach Courtney Spleen of her team surrendering the first goal. “We came out really hard, set a high tempo in the first 15 minutes and put a lot of pressure on them early.

“We had a lot of chances but had some trouble finishing. I think that was their first shot on goal.”

It took Spleen’s charges just five minutes to get the equalizer. Out of a penalty corner, junior midfielder Smilla Klas launched a rocket from the top right of the circle. The ball ricocheted off the stick of senior Katherine Cunningham and into the upper left corner of the goal. It was still 1-1 at the break.

The second half was much more balanced as the teams punched back and forth, both making dangerous attacks on the opponent’s goal. Perhaps the key play of the game occurred with zeroes on the clock at the close of the third quarter.

Canyon Crest had earned a corner prior to the buzzer and while playing it out were awarded a penalty shot. Senior Andie Gately, the team leader with 15 goals, stroked a solid shot that rebounded off the left post, sending the teams into final 15 minutes still tied at one.

Raven senior Jessica Connell scored game's first goal.
Raven senior Jessica Connell scored game’s first goal.
(Ken Grosse)

“I think that missed stroke really helped us a lot,” said Spleen afterwards. “It was a good way for us to end the quarter and given that we’ve sometimes struggled in the past when playing from behind, it gave us a shot of confidence.”

Still, with time running down, it appeared that overtime would be in the forecast. But, with less than two minutes to spare, Klas struck again, putting another blast in the vicinity of the Raven goal. This time, it was senior Mika Horton who trapped the ball, turned to the goal and went cross cage with her ninth goal of the season, this one a game winner. Klas, an unmistakable force up-and-down the park all game, admitted to a simple approach to success on the offensive end.

“A little bit of it is just firing on the net,” she said. “I try to frame the goal and just get it up there. I think that puts a lot of pressure on the goalie and defense. When you do that, good things tend to happen.”

Overall, it was an entertaining match-up. Torrey Pines looks to have a size/athleticism advantage while Canyon Crest may be slightly quicker and a bit more experienced. The X-factor separating the rivals could be Klas and her senior sister, Philine, who anchors the Falcon defense from her center back position. When they get rolling, it’s a hard pair for CCA or anyone else to contain. At crunch time Wednesday, Spleen made sure her two biggest weapons were front and center.

“I’m not going to lie, until we scored that last goal I was really nervous,” smiled Spleen. “We needed extra pressure, needed to get more shots off—needed to score.

“I wanted Philine and Smilla to push us to pick up the pace in that final quarter. They are amazing players and they play amazing together. I sometimes have to push them to be a little more selfish, especially using each other in the attack. They’re usually more defensive players and that may be where some hesitation probably comes.”

Knowing that the two teams will meet again (Wed., Nov. 3), Canyon Crest Head Coach Kiana Duncan was positive following the game but puzzled by what she saw. “That one stings, luckily we have another shot,” said Duncan. “It seemed like we were ready to go but once the game started we were a little timid and Torrey Pines had us on our heels—if you allow them the chance to shoot, at some point it’s going to start going in the net.

“If we had played the first half like we played the second, the outcome might have looked different. After halftime, we were talking more, moving faster and using our skills. We need to have everyone ‘on’ at the same time to be successful against other top quality teams.”

For her part, Spleen was impressed with what she saw from both squads. “CCA has an excellent team this year, very competitive and it’s always a great game between the two schools,” Spleen said. “They have a lot of strong players and, maybe more importantly, a lot of strong leaders, especially in the middle. They want to win and that makes them a dangerous team.

“This was a big win as far as the league is concerned but also for CIF ranking. We proved tonight that we can win when we don’t score first and things don’t go our way. We never lost our composure.”

Torrey is back in action Wednesday, Oct. 13, at home against Rancho Buena Vista while CCA welcomes Westview the same day.