The Corona Santiago High girls’ soccer team has nine NCAA Division I commits on its roster.
That talent meshes together well. A shark is the team mascot, and it’s fitting.
When Santiago smelled blood Saturday in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs, the Sharks did not stop. The result was a dominant 4-0 victory over Corona del Mar at Newport Harbor High, ending the Sea Kings’ season.
Juniors Shaye Douglas, Jenae Perez and Autumn Thompkins and senior Eliana Weckworth all scored for Santiago (14-5-3), which will play Villa Park in the quarterfinals Wednesday. Villa Park beat Pacifica 3-2 in overtime in another second-round match Saturday.
“They never let off the gas at all,” CdM coach Bryan Middleton said of Santiago, which won its 11th straight match. “Thompkins [a UC Irvine commit] is a very special player. She is their complete workhorse, and [senior center midfielder Maggie Johnston, an Iowa commit] is very good as well. Their goalkeeper [Lynette Hernaez, bound for Washington State] is a Division 1 goalkeeper.”
“The Surf League prepares us for the playoffs, and I think [Thursday’s 3-2 upset win at No. 3-seeded Mater Dei in the first round] showed that. But that game took a lot out of us, emotionally and physically. Coming into this one, facing a team with that kind of firepower is just tough. They didn’t stop.”
Santiago, led on defense by goalkeeper Hernaez as well as Douglas, Mihaela Perez, Sadie Shepard and Cienna Irwin, has not allowed a goal in its last nine matches. CdM junior Avery Doherty nearly ended that in the closing minutes Saturday, but she was called offside and her goal disallowed.
“It’s just communicating, trusting each other, and it’s not just the back line,” Santiago coach Mike Fleming said. “It’s a team effort, everybody trusting each other and putting in the work when we’re not in possession. They know their roles and take care of their responsibilities when we need to get the ball back.”
Santiago took a 2-0 lead into halftime, after Douglas scored a header in the box off Rilee Harmon’s corner kick. Jenae Perez, a UC Irvine commit along with her twin sister Miheala, made a cross-cage blast from the left in the 34th minute to double the visitors’ lead.
Thompkins added the third goal in the 63rd minute off a deflection from CdM sophomore goalkeeper Sydney Walls (seven saves), and Weckworth scored the fourth goal in the 73rd minute.
“You look to create opportunities, and you look to finish those opportunities,” Fleming said. “Goals change games. That’s kind of the mindset.”
Middleton said he was proud of his team. Thursday’s dramatic victory at Mater Dei was obviously a highlight of the season for the Sea Kings, who tied for third in the Surf League.
“Probably over the last 19 years that I’ve been at CdM coaching the girls, I’ve lost 25 or 30 girls to Mater Dei,” Middleton said. “To beat them with homegrown girls feel real good against a private school.”
CdM will lose a strong senior class, with the graduation of four-year starters like University of Arizona-bound senior striker Megan Chelf and defender Alex Ianni.
“I’m extremely proud of my girls,” Middleton said. “We had a very successful preseason, going 10-0. Then going into the Surf League, it’s a gauntlet. It’s like playing CIF for league. It prepared us for the playoffs, but it just takes a lot out of you. But it was a great season. This is a strong senior class that we’re losing, but they showed a lot of work ethic for the younger girls for the future. I think the younger girls learned a lot from them this year.”
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