Torrey, Cathedral seniors hope to shine in CIF Open Division playoffs

(L-R) Claire Curran and Ellie Davidson
(L-R) Claire Curran and Ellie Davidson
(Ken Grosse)
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“Selection Saturday” for the 2023 CIF Soccer Playoffs is just days away with girls’ post-season action set to start Tuesday, Feb. 14. Heading into the final week of the regular season, both Cathedral Catholic (14-5-2 overall, 4-1-1 Western League) and Torrey Pines (10-2-2, 8-0 Palomar League), slotted second and fourth in the current section power rankings, are in position to nab one of the eight coveted CIF Open Division berths.

The two schools, historically among the most dominant in San Diego, have both earned places in the bracket eight of the nine years the Open Division has existed. Torrey Pines claimed the title twice (2016 and 2017) while Cathedral won it in 2020. Both will be coming into this season’s tournament with something to prove.

Torrey Pines senior Ellie Davidson
Torrey Pines senior Ellie Davidson
(Ken Grosse)

Coach Dawn Lee’s Dons were the No. 2 seed last winter, only to be eliminated in a first round upset by Westview. Coach Martyn Hansford’s Falcons captured a CIF banner in 2021 but it was in Division I, having seen a rash of injuries knock them out of the Open Division ranks for the first time. The schools have met twice in past Open Division play. No. 1 -seeded Cathedral nipped No. 8 Torrey Pines in the 2015 first round and a fourth-seeded Torrey side reversed that outcome by upsetting the top-seeded Dons, 1-0, in the 2021 semi-finals.

In 2023, there are apt comparisons between the two perennial Del Mar Heights Rd. powerhouses. In Lee and Hansford, they are guided by veteran coaches relying on a foundation built around tough defense, yielding less than a goal per game. And each features an offense revolving heavily around the exceptional play of a senior forward—Ellie Davidson for Torrey Pines and Claire Curran at Cathedral Catholic.

That twosome is also similar in many respects—both are 5-foot-4 with all-league-plus credentials, playing the same position, serving as team captains while possessing a blend of speed and savvy central to their success on the offensive end. Each is also extremely solid in the classroom. Although they’ve never played on the same team, they’ve regularly faced off against each other in the club realm including the most recent Surf Cup tournament.

Senior Claire Curran at Cathedral Catholic's Manchester Stadium.
Senior Claire Curran at Cathedral Catholic’s Manchester Stadium.
(Ken Grosse)

A 17-year-old San Diego resident who plays club soccer with San Diego Surf and has spent four years on the varsity at Cathedral, Curran has nearly 40 goals in her prep career and will be playing Division I soccer at Colorado next fall.

An 18-year-old from Carmel Valley, Davidson has three years of varsity soccer on her resume, missing her freshman season due to developmental academy obligations with her club, City FC out of Carlsbad. Although she can definitely score (she registered three goals last Friday vs. Mission Hills), Davidson has a bigger reputation as a facilitator and, in fact, as a sophomore, had the assist on Torrey Pines’ game-winning goal against Cathedral in that 2021 CIF semi-final clash. After graduating from Torrey, she will move on to Ivy League soccer at Dartmouth.

As one would expect, their respective coaches give their own standouts high marks.

“All of the pieces obviously have to fit together, but she is clearly one of the most important ingredients on our team,” said Hansford of Davidson. “She plays both sides of the field can run with the ball like an old school winger and her control of the ball at speed is phenomenal. She’s also a goal scorer, she likes to attack, but she creates so many assists—if we converted half of what she creates, we’d have a much easier time of it.

“But Ellie’s biggest strength is who she is. She’s an excellent captain who truly sets the standards, putting her body on the line for the team and working her socks off at every training session. She does a lot on the field and is equally important off the field—we have a huge team and that’s a key role.

“Let’s put it this way, there’s no one at any other school I’d trade her for.”

Over at Cathedral, Lee is equally effusive about Curran. “Claire can find the back of the net,” smiled Lee, “and has the ability to score when our team needs it most. She’s also very strong and will run through a brick wall—you don’t usually get that combination of skills in one player.

“She’s become a true team leader—on and off the field she has really flourished in the role of captain.

She can be direct, like her coach, but some sensitive and difficult situations have come her way this season and she’s handled them directly, but in a mature way that belies her age. I’m so proud of her.”

Given where the teams are stationed in the rankings, it’s doubtful the local rivals would go head-to-head before the semi-finals but with CIF action looming, independently, the two standouts took time recently to share their thoughts, some similar, some contrasting, on a variety of topics including the upcoming playoffs, their high school careers and some personal likes and characteristics.

Q&A WITH CLAIRE CURRAN AND ELLIE DAVIDSON

Q—With your high school career just a few weeks from ending, has that reality sunk in yet?

CURRAN—No, not really. Honestly, I don’t think it will until the last game and it’s not something we’ve talked about a lot. It doesn’t seem like the season’s been that long.

DAVIDSON—It’s starting to sink in. We had Senior Night last Thursday and all the talk leading up to that made it seem more real. It will be sad, but I’ll be playing lacrosse in spring so it’s not “all” going to be done right away.

Q—How important does being a senior make this year’s CIF Playoffs?

CURRAN—I would say this is the year I want it most. It’s my last year, I’m playing with some of my closest friends and winning would be the cherry on top of everything. We have so much talent on this team, it would be awesome to win it all—CIF here and State.

DAVIDSON—It definitely adds another layer of motivation and drive. There’s not necessarily pressure, but for the seniors just an extra push to succeed. This has been a huge rebound year for us and we want to keep peaking, not fall short after all the success we’ve had so far. Our coach always reminds us of what having the TP on our jerseys means in terms of being a traditionally elite program and everyone wants us to be part of that as well.

Q—What have you liked most about high school soccer?

CURRAN—The relationships I’ve made with friends and connections I’ve developed through high school soccer. It’s different than club in that you go to school with your teammates and have more opportunity to hang out with girls of different ages and get to know them. Dawn (Lee) has made it so enjoyable.

DAVIDSON—I think the thing I like most is representing your school. It adds to the excitement, fans come out to our games and you see people from your classrooms. There’s also the really cool friendships you make with your teammates. Being able to represent Torrey Pines together is a different kind of bond than you get on a club team, it’s more fun.

Q—What’s something you know now that you wish you’d have known as a freshman?

CURRAN—I guess it would be that the mistakes you make are never as big as you think they are. You’re going to make mistakes and have to just be confident enough to move past them. I used to miss a shot, beat myself up about it and then make more mistakes. Now, I think about how I could have done it better.

DAVIDSON—Good question. I’d probably say just not being afraid to go forward and being confident with my abilities, knowing I can make things happen for myself and teammates.

I think over time, I’ve also matured in how I handle mistakes and how I move on from them. When I was younger, it was easier to allow myself to get down and it affected my play. Now, I’m better able to correct those emotions and move on to the next play.

Q—What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your head coach?

CURRAN—Oh gosh, I would say to always be honest. In my sophomore year (CoVid) when club and high school schedules conflicted, some of my teammates and I had a club showcase event the same week as the State Championship, which we qualified for. I didn’t say anything to Dawn until the last minute. It turned out she knew about it all along but was waiting for us to tell her. She was disappointed that we were not going to play but was more upset and felt we let her and the rest of the team down because we weren’t honest. If it happened again, I would have told her as soon as I knew.

DAVIDSON— The most important thing I’ve learned from my head coach has been to be confident on the field and never be afraid to go forward. He encourages me to express myself 1-on-1 and make dynamic movements off the ball.

Q—What is your favorite soccer team, who is your favorite player?

CURRAN—Paris St. Germaine from the French Ligue One. Their style of play is very fun to watch. Truthfully, I’ve never really thought about anyone as my favorite player.

DAVIDSON—I would say the San Diego Wave of the National Women’s Soccer League and their forward Alex Morgan, who’s also on the USA team. It’s good to have a local team to support and I’ve liked Alex since I was little. I loved her because she was a speedy forward and I wanted to be like her. She wears a pink headband so, since I was like in first or second grade, I’ve worn one too.

Q—What’s the best trait you feel you’ve inherited from your father? Your mother?

CURRAN—I think I’ve got my dad’s strength, physical and mental. He’s super tough and he taught me that. He was not insanely strict, but stern and forward. He put me in my place when I needed to be. With him, I learned that the rules are the rules.

My mom is very nice and very composed, even when she’s angry. I think I can do that pretty well. She showed me you can’t act up over every little thing in life—if you’re nice to people, you’ll get more from them.

DAVIDSON—From my dad, it would be to have passion and commitment when you find something you really like or connect to—give 100% to whatever you do, that kind of mentality and drive. Honestly, I feel like he’s become passionate about things his kids are passionate about—like soccer with me. He knows everything about what we’re doing and it’s fun to have someone like that to talk to about it.

I think some of my competitiveness and outgoing personality come from my mom, although I’m probably more competitive than either of my parents. I can be shy and reserved when I first meet people, just like my mom, but once you get to know us a little better, people quickly learn that we are highly competitive with even the smallest things and very extroverted.

Q—What is the last movie you saw and how did you like it?

CURRAN—Top Gun-Maverick. That’s my favorite movie. I watch it every month. I watched the old one before that. Stuff that involves the military and politic intrigue really interests me. Another older movie like that was Argo.

DAVIDSON—Honestly, I don’t do much of that. I tend to run out of time. Playing different sports and school work, there’s just not a lot of leisure time

Q—What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?

CURRAN—It depends on my mood. If it’s summery, kind of hot outside, I like cotton candy. I’d say mint chocolate chip is the safest choice no matter when.

DAVIDSON—Mint chocolate chip. I’m a big mint person, I love the flavor. That’s my go to and it never disappoints.

Q—Favorite local restaurant?

CURRAN—I love this place near my house called Rosina’s. I would recommend the fruilia ala vodka.

DAVIDSON—Bongiorno’s Pizza in Solana Beach. I have friends that live over there and it’s one of our favorite places. Basic pepperoni is my top choice.

Q—Favorite local beach?

CURRAN—Wind ‘n Sea in La Jolla. I think it’s a super pretty place.

DAVIDSON—Probably Table Tops in Solana Beach or 26th St. in Del Mar. Del Mar is where I grew up going, it’s kind of a family beach. Solana is where I spend a ton of time with my friends. It’s super beautiful there.

Q—What’s your favorite type of music and who’s your favorite artist?

CURRAN—Country and I like Zach Bryan.

DAVIDSON—Probably indie or house music; two of my favorites are Mac DeMarco and Maggie Rogers. I have to say I’m also a big Taylor Swift fan.

Q—Other than soccer, what’s another sport you think you’d be good at? What would you consider your worst sport?

CURRAN—I did gymnastics before I did soccer and was pretty good so I would probably go with that. I ended up switching because the two sports was a lot to handle, mentally and physically, plus I wanted to go to college for a sport and soccer was something I enjoyed more.

As for worst sport, probably tennis. I’m so bad. My mom plays and I would play with her but couldn’t even hit the ball. I would also be really bad at golf.

DAVIDSON—Well, I do play lacrosse at Torrey Pines so I could say that. I also think I would be pretty good at track. I’m probably not fast enough for the 100m but maybe the 400m or 800m. I’d say softball would be my worst sport. I have bad hand-eye coordination and every time I’ve tried to swing a bat, it’s never gone well. I guess it’s a totally different skill set.

Q—What will it take for your team to win the CIF Championship and what would it be like to meet your local rival in the process?

CURRAN—Definitely staying composed. Being smart about taking chances, making the simple passes and not panicking if things aren’t going our way or we fall behind. When something negative happens, that shouldn’t change what we’re doing and the goals will come if we stay on track. We’ve done that this year.

As far as playing Torrey Pines, I have no clue what would happen. We haven’t played them since my sophomore year but I think it would be a fun, competitive game that everyone would like and get into.

DAVIDSON—We’ve achieved a lot so far and sustaining that going forward will be dependent on continuing to have a strong defense with a focus on finishing every offensive opportunity we have. Not letting in goals has kept us in every game and since we may not have many chances to score, finishing every one is very important. We still have a lot of room for improvement.

If we play Cathedral, I would anticipate a very close game that could go either way. I’m going to say right now we would win if we keep playing like we are and keep getting better.

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