Can anyone beat the top-seeded Torrance High girls' soccer team in the Southern Section 3-A Division playoffs?
Maybe a better question is, can any team score a goal against the undefeated Pioneer League champions?
Sporting a 26-0 record, Torrance begins defense of its 3-A championship when it plays host to Laguna Hills at 3 p.m. today.
The Tartars have a 52-1-1 record in the past two seasons. They dominated their opponents this season, outscoring the opposition, 122-1. The only goal they gave up was to Pasadena Poly in a 5-1 Torrance victory. Goalkeeper Jennifer Halladay and the stingy Torrance defense have established a CIF record with their 25 shutouts.
If Torrance can shut out Laguna Hills, it will tie a Southern Section record with 15 consecutive shutouts.
Coach John Jackson, in his fourth season at Torrance, said the Tartars are confident entering the playoffs.
"Right from the start, they expect to win," Jackson said of his players. "Their first thought (from the beginning of the season) is, 'How are we going to do in the playoffs?' Our goal this year has been to go undefeated."
Jackson said he is not familiar with Laguna Hills. "All we know about Laguna is that they are a third-place team (in the Pacific Coast League) and that their record is 5-5-5," he said. "You always hope that the team you end up playing in the first round will be a semi-easy team, but you just never know."
Torrance is led offensively by senior midfielder Jessica Reifer, with 28 goals and 18 assists. She is complemented by left wing Gwen Nakashima, who has 26 goals and 17 assists. Junior Kim Blankinship, an All-CIF selection last season, plays the sweeper position and provides the last line of defense in front of goalkeeper Halladay.
Bishop Montgomery Coach Nancy Clarke, whose team is fourth-seeded in the same playoff bracket as Torrance, said the Tartars play on a level "a cut above" other high school teams. She compares Torrance with the dominating teams fielded by Palos Verdes High in the early 1980s that were led by Carin Jennings, who was named most valuable player of the women's World Cup in November.
Said Clarke, who coached Bishop Montgomery to the Southern Section 3-A championship in 1986: "They're the best team since Jennings' days. They've got depth, confidence and experience."
Although she is obviously impressed with the Torrance team, Clarke wouldn't be averse to meeting the Tartars in the 3-A semifinals.
"I'd like to think that we are one of the teams that could give Torrance a run for their money," she said.
Bishop Montgomery (14-2-4), the Mission League co-champion, will play host to Redondo, the Ocean League runner-up, in a playoff opener at 4:30 p.m. today. Bishop Montgomery and Redondo have played twice this season, with the first game ending in a scoreless tie and Bishop Montgomery winning the second game, 2-0.
Clarke, who is in her third stint as coach at Bishop Montgomery, said she is looking for another game similar to the 2-0 victory.
"I was really impressed with our team," Clarke said. "To beat Redondo, we have to play picture-perfect defense, and (our goal scorers) have to click."
Right wing Alisa Schiappa leads the Knights with eight goals, followed by left wing Kelly Simons with seven.
Although Redondo (8-8-4) is familiar with Bishop Montgomery, Sea Hawk Coach Robin Miller said drawing a local team in the playoffs is not necessarily a blessing.
"It's easier to get up for a non-local team than somebody that you have already played twice," Miller said.
Said Clarke: "We need to play with the same kind of intensity that we have when we play (league rival) Mira Costa."
Miller said Redondo needs a strong defensive effort from goalkeeper Anne-Marie Sherbet and freshman sweeper Kenna Clifton against the Knights. Senior midfielder Sarah Faucett scored six goals this season and is the Sea Hawks' main scoring threat.
Following is a list of other first-round playoff games involving South Bay teams, all at 3 p.m. today:
4-A Division--Mater Dei at Peninsula.
3-A--Long Beach Wilson at South Torrance, Temple City at Mira Costa.
1-A--Chadwick at El Segundo.
4-A--Damien at Leuzinger, Peninsula at Simi Valley, Mira Costa at Royal.
2-A--St. Francis at Bishop Montgomery.