Steve Bignal, the Capistrano Valley High School girls' soccer coach, was worried two months ago. His talent-packed team wasn't showing the firepower he--and just about everyone familiar with Southern Section girls' soccer----had expected.
"Defensively, we're very strong," Bignal had said. "And our midfield is strong and up front we're producing a lot of opportunities. But we're having problems finishing, and if we can't finish, we can't score. It's frustrating to me and to the girls.
"I think we'll be OK, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I was concerned."
Now, after consistent improvement, Capistrano Valley finally is playing to its potential. The second-seeded Cougars (21-4-1) will meet fifth-seeded Simi Valley (24-2-2) in the championship match of the Southern Section 4-A girls' soccer playoffs. The match is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m at Gahr High School in Cerritos.
The last time Capistrano Valley met Simi Valley was in the quarterfinal round of the Ocean View tournament in late December. The Cougars lost, 3-2, fueling Bignal's early-season concerns.
Now, though, after cruising through four playoff games--including a 7-0 rout of third-seeded Royal on Tuesday--Capistrano Valley will appear in the Southern Section final for the first time. To say the Cougars have peaked would be a major understatement.
"After a rough preseason, we're really playing the way we can play," Bignal said. "I think everyone realizes they have their job to do, and they do it well. We are ready to play."
Capistrano Valley's strength is its overall talent. The Cougars have balanced scoring--Ginger Frank leads with 12 goals--and substitute often to keep players fresh. Standout starters include midfielder Sarah Stoney, fullback Cindy Attaway and forward Becky Linhart (who has scored 10 goals this season, five in the past two games).
Simi Valley also is peaking at the right time. Simi Valley began the season with a No. 2 ranking in the 4-A preseason poll, but after losing to Marmonte League rivals Royal and Thousand Oaks, dropped to No. 5.
After upsetting three-time defending champion Mission Viejo in the quarterfinals last week, Simi Valley ousted top-seeded Esperanza on penalty kicks Tuesday after a 1-1 regulation tie and two 20-minute overtimes.
"Emotionally, we are on an absolute high," Simi Valley Coach Mark Johnson said. "Yeah, we be peaking. The girls' goal all season was to prove to everyone that they could get here."