A physical game seems to be par for the course when the Corona del Mar High girls' soccer team meets up with Northwood.
Thursday afternoon's key Pacific Coast League match was no exception.
Both teams struggled to put together good scoring opportunities on CdM's rough and tumble pitch, and perhaps took it out on the opponent. There were four yellow cards issued in the match, two to each team.
In the end, the visiting Timberwolves were all right with the ensuing scoreless draw. It kept them in first place.
At the halfway mark of the league schedule, Northwood (3-0-2 in league) has eight points. Two points are awarded for a win, and one for a tie. CdM (7-4-3, 3-1-1 in league) stayed a point behind Northwood in second place. Woodbridge and Beckman are both 2-2-1 in league, tied for third.
The three-time defending outright league champion Sea Kings know what they have to do in the final five games.
"This gives us motivation to battle for the second part of league," CdM Coach Bryan Middleton said. "We can't worry about Northwood now. We've got to take care of each game, one game at a time."
If the rivals can each win their next four games — hardly a sure thing in this league — then their league finale on Feb. 13 at Northwood would be for the league title.
The rivalry has certainly grown between the Sea Kings and Timberwolves. Last year, junior defender Brianna Westrup suffered a season-ending knee injury after she was kicked in the teams' first league meeting. In the second league meeting, Northwood handed CdM its only league loss of the year.
Westrup hit the ground on back-to-back plays in the second half Thursday as well. The first time, she said senior keeper Kendall Mulvaney was pushed into her on a corner kick. The second time, she said she was accidentally elbowed in the neck, which resulted in one of the two yellow cards for the visitors.
"It usually is [physical] with Northwood," said Westrup, a University of Virginia commit. "We're both very competitive teams, so it doesn't surprise me. It's always a challenging game against Northwood. Us two are usually pretty neck-and-neck through the whole league. It's not necessarily a rivalry like Battle of the Bay, but it's very close [to that]."
CdM got back two players it missed in Tuesday's 2-1 win over Beckman, as senior forward Miranda Stiver (hamstring) and junior midfielder Birkley Sigband (flu) returned. But Stiver, with her right thigh heavily wrapped, was only able to play the first eight minutes of the game. Middleton said he hopes the Oregon State commit can play in CdM's next game, Jan. 30 at Irvine.
Sigband also got yellow-carded midway through the second half. She sat out five minutes before Middleton put her back in at forward. Sigband, senior Sabrina Roy and freshman Hunter Gantos made plays for CdM up top, earning a couple of corner kicks but no really solid shots on goal to test Northwood second-half keeper Mackenzie Curry.
"I thought we played well," Middleton said. "I wish we would taken more chances on taking shots, but we did in the second half. Birkley had a few that ricocheted off their players, Sabrina had a few that ricocheted off their players there at the end ... The weakest part of their defense. Their midfield and forwards were strong and played well. We put [Sigband] in to try to exploit that left defender and go at her."
On the other end, Northwood got two good chances, but Mulvaney (eight saves) handled a soft shot right to her by Chinyere Chambers midway through the second half. Moments later, the University of Denver commit made a save on Gabriela Mackey's free kick from about 35 yards out.
Northwood did not have its head coach present to witness those chances, as Chris Woolley is in Florida getting his "A" license renewed. But Timberwolves assistant coach Courtney Lewis said she liked her team's effort in the second half.
"I think it was a tale of two halves," Lewis said. "In the first half, they had the upper hand. They had better run of possession and the ball was in their attacking third more. In the second half, I think our girls stepped up and really delivered. [CdM is] a scrappy team and we're usually more of a finesse team, and our girls stepped up and battled."
CdM has a bye on Tuesday. Middleton said starting senior defender Molly Keasey (college visits) will miss the game at Irvine on Thursday.
The Sea Kings clearly will have to work for their fourth straight league crown.
"Our team's trying to keep a positive attitude," Westrup said. "Obviously we lost a lot of seniors from last year that were a huge part of the team, so our motto for this year is just kind of, 'Do your best.' When you walk off the field, have your head up and know you gave it your all, and have fun playing with your team and for your school."
Sophomore midfielder Chloe Rice (foot), who competed at the Deaflympics in Bulgaria last summer with the United States Soccer Deaf Women's National Team, made her season debut on Thursday for CdM.