After eight years of pounding nearly everyone in their path, the Torrance United Waves will attempt to ride out on a crest this week.
The Waves, a 19-and-under club team of girls mostly from the South Bay, are playing together for the last time in the U.S. Youth Soccer national championships in Blaine, Minn., where four regional champions will vie for the age-group title.
Torrance will bring a 22-game winning streak into Friday night's game against Houston. The winner will advance to Sunday's final against the winner of the other semifinal between Cincinnati and Boston.
The competition marks the end of an era for the Waves. They will disband after the season-ending tournament because most of the girls are approaching the age limit for youth play.
Coach Sam Tanaka, who started the team in 1987 when most of the girls were 10, has bittersweet emotions regarding the Waves' impending breakup.
"It's kind of sad, but I'm very happy in terms of what (the players) have gotten out of the program," Tanaka said. "That's my ultimate goal, to teach soccer and see these girls go on and get a college degree."
Eleven of the Waves' 14 active players plan to attend four-year colleges in the fall and play soccer, some on scholarships. Two others--midfielders Shannon Boxx and Courtney Little--will return for their senior years at South Torrance and Marymount high schools, respectively.
Boxx was named most valuable player of the Far West regional earlier this month in Bakersfield, where the Waves successfully defended their title by beating the champions of Northern California, Oregon, Alaska, Washington and Colorado to earn their second consecutive trip to the national tournament.
Last year, the Waves lost in the first round of the nationals to a team from North Carolina. Tanaka is hoping for a better result this time. If the Waves win two games, they will claim the national title and finish their eight-year run with exactly 400 victories. They bring a 398-33-25 record into this week's competition and are 55-6-3 this season.
A stifling defense has been largely responsible for the Waves' success. They have 298 shutouts in 456 games (65%), most with Celeste Adams playing goalkeeper. The former Bishop Montgomery standout will attend Loyola Marymount in the fall.
Tanaka, though, reserved his highest praise for defenders Bridget Arnett, Sasha Danna, Miriam Parsa and Jamie Perdue.
"Between these four girls, they really help push the ball to the offensive team," Tanaka said. "They deserve most of the credit."
Arnett, from Bishop Montgomery, will attend UC Irvine; Danna, from Peninsula, will attend Smith College; Parsa, from Chadwick, will attend UCLA, and Perdue, from West Torrance, will attend UC Santa Cruz.
Up front, the Waves rely on UCLA-bound striker Traci Arkenberg, who scored 59 goals last season for Peninsula and was named Southern Section Division I offensive player of the year. The Waves lost one of their top scoring threats, former Torrance standout November Wallace, because of an ankle injury in April.
Boxx, a talented player who figures to have her pick of colleges, controls the midfield with help from Little, Bishop Montgomery's Rachel Moseley (Loyola Marymount) and West's Tricia Tanaka (Cal Poly Pomona), the coach's daughter.
Tanaka, 45, has two other daughters. The oldest, Jenni, is coming up on her senior year at UC Irvine, where she plays soccer. The youngest, Kristi, will be coached by her father starting next season on a 12-and-under team in the Torrance United Soccer Club.
For Tanaka, the cycle will start over with a new team.
"Hopefully they'll be able to produce similar results to what the Waves did," he said.
That's hoping for a lot. The Waves have outscored opponents, 1,486-232, and have won four state championships and 59 major tournaments.
Win or lose this weekend, it has been quite a ride.