The Marina High girls' soccer team made it a goal this season to make the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs.
Easier said than done in the Sunset League, and easier said than done for the Vikings as a program. Marina had not advanced to the postseason since the 2009 team led by Mariah Nogueira (Bullock), who went on to star at Stanford.
That changed this week. The Vikings clinched third place in league and a guaranteed CIF berth with Tuesday's 4-1 victory at Newport Harbor in the league finale. Marina, which finished the regular season 16-5-4 overall and 5-4-1 in league, will learn its first-round playoff opponent on Monday morning, when the section releases the brackets. First-round games are scheduled for Thursday.
Vikings senior captain Erika Sosa had a busy week. Sosa, who has 28 goals this season, scored twice against the Sailors. The next day, she signed with Sacramento State. The two other members of the team who signed Wednesday were forward Autumn Opperud (University of Jamestown in North Dakota) and center back Amanda Dunton (Wheaton College in Massachusetts).
Sosa, a four-year varsity player, said she is thrilled to advance to the postseason for the first time. Last year, the Vikings finished last in league at 0-9-1, including an embarrassing 10-0 loss against rival Huntington Beach.
This year, the Vikings bounced back from a 4-1 loss to the Oilers in the teams' first league meeting, earning a crucial 2-0 win on Jan. 30 and finishing ahead of fourth-place Huntington Beach by two points in league.
"I thought the team that was going to go to CIF would be my freshman or sophomore year, but we missed it by a point both seasons," Sosa said. "So this is just the best feeling, you know? … We definitely outgrew our genes from last year. We strengthened ourselves emotionally and mentally. We have a stronger mentality now, so it's not that easy to just break us down."
First-year coach Heath Oberle has strikers up top in Sosa and freshman Kaitlyn Paculba, while junior midfielder Kellie Hallworth, a team captain who recently committed to Cal State San Bernardino, is steady in the middle. But defensively, the Vikings have also been sound with junior goalkeeper Bella Carver and a back line of sophomore Lori Mandarino, Dunton, freshman McKenna Pua and senior captain Autumn Stewart, as well as senior defensive midfielder Sasha Kaplan.
Oberle believes his team, which was ranked as high as No. 4 in Division 2 this season, could make a run in CIF.
"To me, a lot of CIF is how you can handle the emotions and the intensity of the games," Oberle said. "Every 80 minutes is win or go home, and I think we showed toward the end of the season that we can handle that pressure and rise to the occasion."
Whatever the postseason holds, the Vikings can be proud of their turnaround season.
"I feel like people at first were like, 'Oh, Marina is getting lucky,'" Hallworth said. "But all of us feel like we've proved that we're good enough to compete with these teams. Us beating Huntington proves that."
Local teams punch ticket to CIF
Eight other local girls' soccer teams have earned automatic berths to the postseason after qualifying through league play.
Division 1: Edison (second in Sunset League)
Division 2: Corona del Mar (second in Pacific Coast League)
Division 3: Estancia (second in Orange Coast League)
Division 4: Laguna Beach (Orange Coast League champion); Ocean View (third in Golden West League)
Division 5: Sage Hill (fourth in Academy League); Los Amigos (second in Garden Grove League)
Division 6: Pacifica Christian Orange County (third in San Joaquin League)