Cathedral, LCC girls advance from CIF soccer quarterfinals

Cathedral senior Claire Curran put on a virtuoso performance against Eastlake.
Cathedral senior Claire Curran put on a virtuoso performance against Eastlake.
(Ken Grosse)

Sometimes the first step on the road to a championship is the toughest. Both Cathedral Catholic and La Costa Canyon girls soccer teams learned that lesson the hard way last year when they were ousted from the CIF Open Division Playoffs in the opening round.

Tuesday night, Feb. 14, both made their 2023 first step a positive one. Second-seeded host Cathedral Catholic, behind a dazzling three-goal showing by forward Claire Curran, took control late in the first half and never let up, eliminating No. 7 seed Eastlake, 4-0. Two miles down the road, the visiting fifth seed La Costa Canyon made a second half goal stand up in a 1-0 triumph over No. 4 Torrey Pines.

Cathedra Catholic (16-5-3) and LCC (8-4-5) will now square off in next Wednesday’s semi-finals at Cathedral. The two schools have each captured the CIF Open banner within the last three years (Cathedral 2020 and LCC 2021). Top-seeded Westview and defending titlist San Marcos will collide on the other side of the bracket. The two semi-final winners will vie for the championship a week from Saturday, on Feb. 25.

Don senior Alanah Ramirez
Don senior Alanah Ramirez
(Ken Grosse)

Tuesday, Cathedral and Eastlake devoted the first 20 minutes to feeling things out and testing the waters. Curran then spent the next 20 taking over the game. The speedy Colodado commit’s first goal came in the 22nd minute off a Kate Dalton corner kick that was brought down by sophomore Izzy Matteson. With her back to the goal, Matteson played it back to Curran who did what she does best, notching her 14th goal of the season.

Just over six minutes later she collected No. 2, battling to win the ball on the right wing and then driving a high, tight-angled shot cross cage to make it 2-0. Curran completed the trifecta inside the final two minutes of the half, getting the ball on a counter, beating a defender inside the box and then clinically rifling it home.

“That second goal was insane,” said Cathedral Head Coach Dawn Lee, shaking her head afterward. “You know, last Friday, for the first time in league, she didn’t score any points against Coronado. It was not a big deal because Claire’s such a huge asset even when she doesn’t score.

La Costa Canyon and Torrey Pines had a typically hard-fought match-up in Tuesday's CIF Quarterfinal.
La Costa Canyon and Torrey Pines had a typically hard-fought match-up in Tuesday’s CIF Quarterfinal.
(Ken Grosse)

“But she takes that kind of stuff inside, feels a responsibility to do what she thinks she’s supposed to do. It felt like tonight was her response. As a coach, you really come to appreciate that type of player.” Sophomore Lila Conroy added the final tally with 6:15 remaining in the game.

Lee, who told her youngish team before the game that it should be “proud but not satisfied” with all it’s accomplished since a bumpy early season stretch, saw the performance as much more than just an offensive explosion by her senior star, particularly in light of last year’s traumatic playoff departure.

“This was a full team performance, from defense to midfield to the forwards and our goalie (Paula Flores Cantu) was lights out—everyone contributed in some way.” The 25th-year coach even paid tribute to last year’s squad, saying “this win was for ‘team 24.’ “

Torrey Pines senior Stella Mikolajewski splits two LCC defenders.
Torrey Pines senior Stella Mikolajewski splits two LCC defenders.
(Ken Grosse)

For the first time in recent memory, arch rivals Torrey Pines and La Costa Canyon were not in the same league and the CIF debut was the first meeting between the duo in 2022-23. It was a defensive struggle that, from the beginning, felt like the first goal might be decisive. The two sides played on fairly even terms for the first 40 minutes but just six minutes into the second session, the key moment presented itself.

LCC junior Cece Egan got loose along the end line right of the goal and sent a sharp ground ball towards the net that eluded the Falcon goalkeeper, giving the Mavericks a 1-0 lead they refused to relinquish. Egan conceded postgame that she got a bit of a break on the play.

“The ball came in from Raigan (Jager) and actually bounced off of me but went towards the goal, kind of lucky I guess,” said Egan, who at 5-foot-3 may have been the shortest player on the field but in terms of physicality definitely “outplays” her size. “I got it back, took it down the line, cut in with my left foot and shot it through her legs.

LCC junior Cece Egan's second half goal proved to be the difference.
LCC junior Cece Egan’s second half goal proved to be the difference.
(Ken Grosse)

“I was so excited, couldn’t have been happier. There was a lot of pressure, especially because it’s CIF and Torrey Pines is a major rival, but you have to put the nerves aside and just play your game—the result will always come out the way it’s supposed to be.”

La Costa Canyon, a team that’s now scored just 17 goals all season, knows how to play with a lead and was able to stifle the Falcons and turn away several dangerous advances by the home team.

“Perseverance won it for us,” said LCC Head Coach Ryan Morissey. “There was that little bit of extra want and desire and definitely a little bit of quality showed through there in the end.

“There’s a great team spirit with this group, they wanted it so bad. It’s always a meaningful game against Torrey Pines and the fact this was the CIF quarterfinals magnified that.”

Like Lee over at Cathedral, he felt it was a comprehensive effort from his lineup, including one senior who has missed the bulk of the season. “Top-to-bottom, everybody contributed. The back line was so solid, along with our goalkeeper,” added Morissey. “I thought Raigan (Jager) did a lot of nice things. She is huge to our style of play—she’s missed most of the season but getting her back the last couple of weeks has been critical and a big lift for the group.”

On the other sideline, Torrey Pines’ Head Coach Martyn Hansford, whose team missed the Open Division bracket for the first time a year ago, finished an impressive comeback season 11-4-2 with a Coastal League championship in its pocket, lamented about what could have been for a team that had section title aspirations.

“It felt like we did enough to win, could have had three or four goals in the second half but just didn’t finish them,” said Hansford. “Their keeper made a couple of great saves, we hit the post and got a few bad breaks but that’s knockout football—you can do everything right and not get rewarded for it.”

He acknowledged the difficulty in facing LCC. “Their style of plasy is a challenge for us,” Hansford continued. “They wan to put the ball forward, high.

“They play to their strengths, they’ve got a lot of big, tall, physical girls. They’re not necessarily looking to create something as much as they’re looking for you to make mistakes and that’s where they got their goal. Best of luck to them going forward—hopefully we’ll have a league rivalry with them next year.”

As one might have expect, the two winners were more than happy to have round one behind them. “It literally feels amazing,” said Lee. “I was so disappointed for our girls last year, it feels good to know we’ll be playing again next week.”

“The pressure’s always there, especially in the Open,” said Morissey. “Getting beyond the first round is nice after the early exit last season. We always want to play the best teams so bring Cathedral on. It’s going to be fun.”