Last-second goal thwarts Falcons again in CIF field hockey final
Saturday night’s CIF Open Division field hockey championship was déjà vu of the worst kind for Head Coach Courtney Spleen and her Torrey Pines team. In a virtual replay of last year’s final game, the Falcons were stunned by a last second goal that denied them a section title.
Saturday night, it was perennial power Canyon Hills delivering the lethal strike, converting a penalty corner with just 10 seconds remaining in regulation for a 2-1 victory that secured the school’s 24th CIF crown and its fourth in the seven-year history of the Open Division.
Last fall, the 2021 championship was decided when Scripps Ranch shocked Torrey Pines by breaking a scoreless tie with 46 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. This one was even more painful for Spleen & Co.
“This was very different,” said Spleen. “Last year was the first time for our group in the championship final and I think just getting there was pretty awesome. But this year, we had a very strong, veteran team, had worked really hard and come a long way during the year between.
“We had experience in the championship game and I felt like it was our time.”
Saturday night’s game, hosted by La Costa Canyon High School, had all the makings of a classic match-up. The undefeated (25-0), top-seeded Rattlers, led by first-year Head Coach Kat Keivans, who had replaced the legendary Laurie Berger, facing fourth-year coach Spleen’s 20-3 Falcons, looking for their first-ever Open Division banner and first of any variety since capturing the 2016 Division I tourney. Both teams were league champions, both had posted goal differentials of over 100 and their lone meeting in the regular season went overtime before Canyon Hills prevailed, 3-2.
Canyon Hills reached the playoff pinnacle by defeating La Jolla (4-1) and Poway (1-0/OT) while second-seeded Torrey Pines cruised past Mission Vista (4-0) in the opening round and then bulldozed three-time defending Open champ Scripps Ranch, 5-0, in the semi-finals.
While maybe not the most artistic affair, the game essentially lived up to its potential although the majority of the action took place between, not inside, the circles. The key moments occurred early and late.
Torrey Pines dictated the play from the starting whistle, but just over four minutes in, a blistering end-to-end Canyon Hills counter attack led to the first goal of the contest. Junior forward Cam Ward sent a low shot across the goal mouth and senior Venassa Orlina-Mincey, the Rattlers’ leading goal scorer, tipped it home.
That seemed to dampen Torrey Pines’ enthusiasm. For the rest of the half and well into the second, Canyon Hills, while not able to add to its lead, stymied any offensive notions the Falcons had. Paced by dynamic senior Mia Clark, the Rattler midfield was quick, active and shut down the passing lanes.
“Their strongest players are definitely in the middle of the field and they did a good job of staying composed, holding onto the ball and working it around our players,” said Spleen afterwards. “That made it very difficult to generate an attack.”
When a halftime pep talk wasn’t producing the desired results, Spleen called a timeout midway through the third quarter to try to drive home the urgency of the situation.
“We told the girls to stop playing so defensively, attack more and push up to support the forwards,” said Spleen.
This time, the message seemed to resonate. The Falcons were able to create some buzz in the final third of the field and, just as the third quarter was nearing a close, got a big opportunity to equalize. A “stick interference” penalty was assessed on Canyon Hills, awarding Torrey Pines a penalty stroke, the field hockey version of a penalty shot. The Falcons’ top player, senior Smilla Klas got the call to the seven-yard spot and uncorked a rocket but goalie Ryan Robertson turned it away sending her squad into the final 15 minutes with another jolt of confidence.
“I just messed up,” said Klas, a 29-goal scorer on the year. “I tried to lift it to the upper left corner but missed the lift—she went the right way and made the block.”
As the minutes slipped away in the fourth quarter, Torrey Pines amplified the pressure and with 3:30 on the clock earned a penalty corner. Before the match, Spleen had identified “getting corners” and converting them would be a key for her club. More than three quarters of the way into the contest they got their first—and it turned out to be an adventure.
Junior Hayden Roddis, inserting the ball on the goal line to the right of Robertson, misplayed her pass, trickling it toward the center of the circle. Somehow, it emerged on the stick of Klas, moving left to right about 12 yds. in front of the cage. She rifled a hard right-handed drive that ricocheted off the right post and across the goal line. It came right to Roddis, standing unmarked in front of the gaping goal—tie game.
“I was overthinking and whiffed the ball on the insert,” smiled Roddis. “Smilla’s shot bounced off the post, it was coming right to me—I trapped it and shot.
“When I saw it coming, I immediately thought ‘I can’t miss this.’ I just tried to stay composed in the moment. I don’t know what I would have done if I missed it.”
She didn’t and the momentum and tension shifted instantaneously. With both teams battling full tilt into the final 60 seconds, overtime looked imminent until Canyon Hills was given a corner with 16 seconds left. With 10 ticks to go, the ever-present Clark materialized from a front-of-net scramble with the ball on her stick and punched it home for the game-winner. Agony to ecstasy and back again for Torrey Pines in a matter of three minutes.
After the final whistle, the Falcons’ head coach was matter-of-fact. “We didn’t draw enough corners and that definitely played a role in why we lost,” said Spleen, whose team came into the clash averaging nearly six goals per game. “Corners are a strength and the one we did draw, we scored. They got a corner call at the end and capitalized.
“The thing I’ll take from tonight is our team kept fighting and never gave up—that’s what every coach wants.” The Falcon roster includes just four seniors so a return for a third shot at the title has a solid foundation.
On the other side, Keivens called her team’s triumph “surreal,” and said she was planning for a 7v7 overtime when Clark netted the clincher. A graduate of Canyon Hills (then Serra), she noted that her 2004 senior team was in the CIF Championship game. “We won that one too,” she said, “so to bring home this victory is awesome.”
For Torrey’s Klas, it was a tough way to conclude a tremendous prep career. “It was definitely disappointing and I wish it would have ended in a win,” said Klas. “But we fought hard and played for each other—I’m proud of us.”
Get the Del Mar Times in your inbox
Top stories from Carmel Valley, Del Mar and Solana Beach every Friday for free.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Del Mar Times.