Eagles surprise with tie

COSTA MESA — As the referee blew his whistle to signify the end of the match, smiles broke out on the Estancia High girls' soccer sideline.

No wild celebration, mind you, but smiles nonetheless.

The fact that the score was tied didn't matter. To the Eagles, Tuesday evening's 1-1 draw with interdistrict opponent Corona del Mar at Jim Scott Stadium felt like a win.

Coaches do not usually talk about breakthroughs after ties. But when you're Estancia Coach Jessica Perry (formerly Gatica) and your team has lost to CdM in each of your first three years, you might think differently.

"Last year it was 5-0, the year before it was 3-0 and my first year it was 1-0," said Perry, who married Estancia teacher and girls' golf coach Jeff Perry in October. "Progressively we've had worse and worse scores playing them. This is a big moral victory for us.

"They're a very talented team that I think will do great. We just had a great day today and pulled together as a team. Everything a coach could ask for, as far as heart and determination and never giving up, happened today. It all just kind of clicked together. Hopefully this is the beginning of a giant step in the right direction that we're taking together."

It's not like the Eagles (1-1-1) caught CdM (0-0-1) in a down year. The Sea Kings have six Division I recruits on their team. They went into their season opener ranked No. 5 in the CIF Southern Section Division I coaches' poll. CdM is also ranked No. 4 in the nation in the Powerade Fab 50 poll, among the eight states that have girls' soccer as a winter sport.

The Sea Kings dominated time of possession on the pitch Tuesday. The Eagles were opportunistic.

Eleven minutes into the game senior Heather Flores delivered a beautiful cross into the box. The ball appeared to brush off the crossbar — and the hand of CdM goalie Kendall Mulvaney — before landing on the goal-line. Estancia senior forward Mariah Chapin tapped it in.

The 5-foot-1 Flores is a four-year varsity player for the Eagles. She knows how much Tuesday's game meant.

"Even though we're tiny, we all were working really hard just to keep up with them, and go out hard at every ball we possibly could," Flores said. "I was just hoping to have a hard defense and play our hardest. To come out with a tie is pretty much the same as coming out with a win to us, after the past three years."

CdM answered in the 16th minute off a free kick from University of Michigan-bound senior midfielder Sydney Raguse. The ball was deflected in the box by University of Washington-bound senior forward Ally Brahs, and junior Maddie O'Connor, a UC Santa Barbara commit, booted it in to even the score.

From then on the Sea Kings worked hard to score again. Early in the second half junior Annie Alvarado, a UCLA commit, made a series of moves near the end line before passing up to O'Connor. She blasted a shot that Estancia freshman goalie Caitlin Leahy saved, covering up the ball before CdM could swoop in for a rebound goal.

Twice in the second half Monica Venturini made nice crosses from the left. The first time Brahs' goal was disallowed due to offsides. The second time, she found Emily Krebs at the top of the box, who flicked a shot that went just wide right.

Estancia would not give up the go-ahead goal. Perry watched as Leahy, just 14 but a talented club goalie for Slammers FC, shined with 10 saves. With Leahy's senior sister Emily out with a hip labral tear, another freshman, Alba Barrios, has stepped up at the sweeper position.

"My two defensive leaders are a freshman goalkeeper and a freshman sweeper," said Perry, who also got sizable defensive contributions from juniors Shantel Romero and Isela Garcia. "We've put a lot of faith into these young girls … Having a 14-year-old between the pipes is a little stressful for a coach, but it's just the way it all came together."

CdM Coach Bryan Middleton has faith that his team will get better. Five of his top players — Raguse, Alvarado, Mulvaney, senior defender Amanda Stephenson (George Mason) and junior midfielder Karsten Sigband — were gone last weekend at U.S. Youth Soccer national league club competition in Georgia.

Middleton also hopes for good news on Stanford-bound senior goalie Sarah Cox, currently out with a sternum injury. Middleton said he does not know when Cox, who missed last year's high school season with an ACL injury, will return.

"We just need to play more," Middleton said. "We need to play more games, we need to scrimmage more in practice. Girls just need to get more touches on the ball with each other, so we can bond as a team. You just kind of chalk it up to not playing with each other this year.

"There's nothing negative about tonight. We kept possession of the ball 95% of the time. Just got to work together more and learn each other."

Estancia has already had a scrimmage and three games. Three of the four contests have been against Pacific Coast League foes, as the Eagles tied their scrimmage with Irvine and lost to Beckman last week.

Perry said her teams have tough preseason schedules for a reason.

"We play tough teams to be ready for league and CIF," Perry said. "I know a lot of teams don't do that and they come in with a much better record than we do, but we usually come out at the end of league on top."

The Eagles are going for their third Orange Coast League title in four years.

They felt on top after Tuesday's match, no matter what the scoreboard said.


Twitter: @mjszabo

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