When the CIF Southern Section released its boys’ soccer playoff pairings on Saturday, Fountain Valley High coach Jason Smith counted seven teams in the Division 1 draw that his team had already faced.
Although the Barons were the only Division 1 team in the Wave League this season, Smith certainly felt that his team had been battle-tested.
Nevertheless, he also knew that it would take a near-perfect effort to contend against Mater Dei, a program that advanced to the semifinals in the section’s top division a year ago.
An aggressive Monarchs team pushed the play, and with a great deal of skill, they eventually were able to break down the host Barons.
Turner Mills scored four goals to lead Mater Dei to a 6-1 blowout win over Fountain Valley on Wednesday in the first round.
“I was a little dry this season,” Mills said. “I didn’t get that many goals, so coming out in my senior CIF [postseason] and scoring that many felt really good. I’m happy and excited for our next game.”
Mater Dei (17-4-1) will host Santa Barbara (20-1-4) in the second round on Friday. The host Dons edged Studio City Harvard-Westlake 3-2 in overtime in the first round. Mills, a four-year varsity player who is receiving interest from multiple Division 1 college programs, added that the Monarchs are motivated to make another deep run.
“I feel like we’re more motivated this year because our loss in the semis [to Los Angeles Cathedral] kind of hurt us last year,” Mills said. “I feel like we felt as a team that we should have gotten to the finals, that we thought we were that good [of a] team, and this year, we want it even more than last year.”
Bryce Lehner contributed three assists. On the opening goal in the 24th minute, he headed a long throw-in from Jackson McKinney to the opposite post, where Mills crashed in and scored on a header.
He also had a beautiful cross to the back post that Mills was able to run onto and volley without breaking his stride, giving Mater Dei a 3-1 lead in the 38th minute.
“We’ve really been practicing,” Lehner said. “We spend the last 30 minutes of practice every day working on set pieces, crosses [and] finishes.”
The Monarchs put the match away in the 69th minute when Mills got on the business end of another set piece to extend the lead to 4-1. He would add a fourth goal five minutes later.
Patrick Neill and Diego Oseguera also scored for the Monarchs, the third-place team from the Trinity League. Tae Ulicny had a pair of assists.
“The identity of our program is our intensity and our work ethic, and I think we showed that today,” Monarchs coach Sean Ganey said. “We just grind, and we keep coming at you. We’re really tough defensively. Give credit to Fountain Valley. They were really good defensively. We watched them on film. We studied them. They had an incredible year. They are really tough to break down.
“It’s a pretty big accomplishment to score [six goals] against Fountain Valley because they were a very, very good defensive team all year.”
Indeed, for an extended period, Fountain Valley (9-7-3) had been difficult to solve. The Barons allowed one goal or less in seven contests during a 10-match unbeaten streak.
The Wave League champion Barons suffered their first loss since Dec. 28.
Barons leading scorer Sebastian Rus accounted for Fountain Valley’s goal, sending a penalty kick into the bottom right corner of the net in the 36th minute.
Connor Trapp made three saves in the first half for Fountain Valley. Jack Nelson stopped four shots in the second half.
In spite of seeing his team eliminated in the first round, Smith was ready to look back fondly on the turnaround that the Barons experienced midway through the season.
“I look at the season as a positive,” said Smith, who led the Barons to their first league crown since the 2007-08 season. “At 2-6 [to start the season], these guys could have given up. They could have just packed it up, but they didn’t. They made a choice to believe that we could turn things around.
“The coaching staff and the team, we came together. We felt like we could do this, and we did. That’s our first loss in 11 games, and I think that says a lot for these guys.”
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