Young Cathedral girls soccer team looks to leave ‘22 CIF memories in the past
Cathedral Catholic Head Girls Soccer Coach Dawn Lee knows a thing or two about winning. Her Dons teams have won 11 CIF championships, the most recent in 2020 when they captured the Open Division banner.
When you win on such a high level, it’s inevitable that there will be at least a few tough losses along the way. Cathedral suffered one such devastating setback in the first round of the Open Division playoffs last February, falling on penalty kicks after a scoreless regulation and overtime against No. 7 seed Westview. It was the kind of result that’s not soon forgotten—even by the best of coaches and players.
“I don’t know if I ever fully got over it, if I’m honest,” said Lee recently. “It definitely still stings a little bit. It was such a bummer—we had the talent, had the team, such a great bunch of girls, but just didn’t finish it off. Hopefully, it will provide more motivation for this year.”
‘This year’ started last week when Cathedral Catholic hosted the annual Butch Lee Memorial Tournament (named after the school’s former head coach who was also Dawn’s father) where the Dons posted a 2-1 mark, knocking off Classical Academy (4-0) and Orange County invader Foothill (2-0) before absorbing a 2-1 defeat to neighborhood rival Canyon Crest Academy in which two defensive breakdowns resulted in a pair of goals in the first 10 minutes.
“Overall, I was super-pleased with how we played over the course of the three games,” said Lee, “particularly in the sense that we have a pretty young team and implemented a 3-4-3 which is a new alignment for us.
“We may or may not keep that system going forward but I feel confident with the people in the back and it gives us a chance to throw another person forward. We were able to generate more chances, we just didn’t convert them, but seven goals in three games was pretty good for the first time out.”
Twelve returners, including four regular starters give Lee a good core to build around. As per usual, the Dons’ approach will rely heavily on a sturdy defense.
“I think we’re going to try to be strong defensively,” said Lee, who was a standout center back herself as a collegian at UC San Diego. “I feel that type of dependable foundation will always enable the kind of creativity you need up front.”
The forward line is missing graduated Kelsey Branson, who racked up 59 career goals at Cathedral, 29 as a senior, and is now seeing action as a freshman at Washington. Lee acknowledges the void but feels the solution is on her roster.
“Kelsey was such a dynamic player and could always make things happen,” says Lee. “I think Claire has the capacity to fill that role, maybe not exactly in the same way, but as the year progresses, I believe our forward group is just going to keep getting better and will be a super important part of the success we have.”
‘Claire’ would be senior co-captain Claire Curran, the team’s second-leading goal scorer as a junior (16), who has already accounted for three markers this season. Lee calls her “a quick, strong player who can score from anywhere.” She’s also part of the veteran unit that felt the pain of last year’s final contest.
“I was obviously sad, but knew I had another year,” said Curran. “A lot of my friends were seniors on that team and I felt sorry they wouldn’t have another chance.
“We were all just kind of angry because it ended up with PKs and mad at ourselves that we let it get to that point. You start thinking of all the things you could have done differently.” On the bright side, Curran likes what she sees from her “new” team and, as a senior, wants to make sure she’s available to help with her younger teammates’ development.
“I like that we’re really fast and aggressive, can play the ball over, get to it and get a shot,” Curran said.
“For as little as we’ve practiced, it felt like we were very organized and will be strong in the back.
“I’m confident that we have all the pieces to be a great team and once we figure out how to put all those pieces together, I see us winning a lot of games and having fun.
“In terms of leadership, we have a lot of young girls so I want to make sure I let them know that they can look at me as someone they can approach or talk to, kind of like a big sister. I was shy as a freshman and a sophomore, not as confident as I am now. We had people who could have played that role for me but I just didn’t know it.” Of course, there’s much more to the Cathedral package than simply Curran.
Two juniors, Cal-committed Tori Jones and Dyllan Williamson, who transferred last year from Santana, will be the backbone of the defense Lee and Curran touted. Both are confident, can hit long balls and be productive in the air. The Dons also bring back their top two goalkeepers, senior Paula Cantu and sophomore Maria O’Brien.
Freshman Presley Williams will also make her presence felt. Lee says, “She’s strong but quick, a very physical player who’s not scared at all. We will probably use her defensively but could move her into the midfield as well.”
In the midfield, she could be teamed up with junior Tatum Alanis who, despite her relatively slight build, is not shy about mixing it up and has good touch on the ball. Lee sees her being more confident going to goal and she validated the assessment by scoring two goals in the opening tournament.
Lee also intends to push heavily on creating a mindset that will help the team avoid some of the pitfalls that caused its early exit from the ’22 CIF playoffs. “My biggest thing is trying to foster an environment that continues to encourage our players to just have fun,” said Lee. “Our school and teams always have big expectations and big goals. That’s to be expected but I want them to just play free with nothing hanging over their heads. That will be a great accomplishment.” That statement partially illustrates why players like Curran love playing for Lee.
“I left my club’s development academy to play for Dawn because my parents went to high school with her and I always went to her camps growing up,” says Curran. “I would consider her like my second mom.
“She will get on you when it’s needed but is very positive and I can talk to her about anything.”
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