Cathedral Catholic girls upset by Westview in CIF first round soccer match-up
In perhaps the most unlikely result of the 2022 CIF Open Division Girls Soccer Quarterfinals, seventh-seeded visitor Westview stunned No. 2 seed and 2020 section champion Cathedral Catholic on penalty kicks Wednesday night.
The victory lifted Westview to 11-7-2 on the year and into next Tuesday’s CIF semi-final against third-seeded San Marcos, which eliminated defending champion La Costa Canyon in the first round. Cathedral Catholic’s season finished at 21-3-2.
In a contest that featured 95 minutes (80 regulation and 15 overtime) of scoreless soccer, the two teams combined to connect on 11 consecutive penalty kicks before the host Dons’ sixth kick barely skimmed over the top of the crossbar to hand the Wolverines the surprising outcome.
For veteran Cathedral Head Coach Dawn Lee, who has 10 seniors on her roster, it was a bitter pill to swallow. “Watching the game play out there was certainly frustration but frustration is not really what I’m feeling,” said Lee. “I just hurt because my seniors are such a cool group and it’s hard as a coach when you want it so bad for them because they’re such good kids.”
Anything can happen in soccer but with its homefield advantage, sterling record, championship legacy (17 section titles as USDHS/Cathedral), early season win over Westview and No. 2 seeding, there was no logical reason for Cathedral to enter Wednesday’s clash with anything but confidence.
Outwardly, all looked to be status quo but there were hints that despite all the positives, the post-season might be more of a street fight than cakewalk. In their final regular season game, Feb. 10’s Senior Day, the Dons, who allowed less than a goal per game this year, surrendered three to visiting Coronado for the second time in two weeks, allowing the Islanders to escape with a tie. There was concern on Lee’s part that with the added pressure of post-season approaching, her club was playing well but not putting together complete games.
“Sometimes when we come out on fire but don’t get a result in the first 10-15 minutes, we get a little frustrated and seem to drop into a conservative mode,” said Lee a day before the game. “Getting an early goal would be key for us.” The comments proved prescient.
Wednesday, for the most part, the Dons controlled the run of play in the first half. They stymied Westview defensively, manufactured some good chances early but were unable to put anything away. In the latter stages of the first 40 minutes though, it began to feel like Cathedral was forcing things a bit offensively.
At halftime, the mantra on the Cathedral side was “no need to panic, up the energy level, play your game and the outcome will take care of itself.”
When action resumed, Cathedral continued to grapple with its offensive challenges and Westview just kept on being Westview. While not playing a particularly stylish brand of soccer, the Wolverines have good size and physicality, are very disciplined defensively and have some pace and sneaky quickness. It added up to a package that created a major thorn in Cathedral Catholic’s side offensively. The Don midfield was unable to consistently put the ball through to its forwards, the entire team seemed a step behind and was losing too many one-on-one battles.
As its hosts struggled, one could sense Westview’s belief and self-assurance building. Even their supporters appeared to pick up their noise level and conviction. The Wolverines were even able to make a few forays deep into Cathedral territory. Still, neither team was able to crack the opposing goal in the final 40 minutes of regulation, meaning the two teams would tack on a 15-minute overtime period.
On the sideline prior to the OT session, Lee made an impassioned plea with her players to push the pace, play free and show the kind of grit sometimes necessary to win grind-it-out, win-or-go-home match-ups like the one they were facing.
The initial portions of overtime resembled a repeat of the first 80 minutes but with about five minutes remaining the Dons suddenly found another gear and began creating opportunities. In the final two minutes, a game-saving scenario materialized. Senior Brooke Miller created space for herself to launch a magnificent 23-yd. pass that landed five yards in front of the left post.
Cathedral’s leading scorer, senior Kelsey Branson, moving forward, met the ball precisely and tucked a shot between the Westview goalkeeper and the post. Pandemonium ensued on the Cathedral side of the field but was quickly doused by a linesman’s offsides flag.
After playing to the conclusion of extra time, the winner would be determined by penalty kicks. Never a perfect way to solve a game of this magnitude, Westview’s ultimate triumph was met with shock and a stream of questions and comments, most centered on the controversial offsides call. More pertinent topics might have been ‘how did it ever come down to OT and PKs and where was the furious last-minute exertion over the body of the game?’ They were questions the always open Lee struggled with in the game’s aftermath.
“It’s not the first time we’ve seen that, it’s a piece of the puzzle that’s gone missing in the latter stages of our season and we’ve been trying to figure it out,” said Lee. “I think a lot of it is simply that there was so much pressure on these girls because they started off so well (won 16 of their first 17) and wanted this so bad.
“At some point, when games got tight, instead of playing our usually reactive, aggressive style, we would kind of go into a shell, start playing more passively, defensively. It’s something as a coach I have not been able to figure out. I try to instill in my players that it’s OK to make a mistake—it’s hard.
“You can only do so much before you start questioning yourself. Did I do the right things? That’s the hardest thing about being a coach. I’m super passionate about this and that’s why it hurts so much.
“I believe in the concept that you learn a lot more from a defeat than a win and that as an athlete or person, how you respond to adversity is a real measuring stick of who you are. We’ve got a good chance to find out.”
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