DANA POINT — The underdog story came to a sudden end Wednesday night at Dana Hills High.
The most successful Corona del Mar High girls' lacrosse team in program history fell to mighty Los Alamitos, 12-6, in the U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section South Division title match.
While the ending was a bit bittersweet, the tears in the eyes of so many of the Sea Kings weren't because of Wednesday's result at all. They cried because the special season, the one that had them win a share of the Pacific Coast League title, survive sudden-death overtime in a first-round playoff win then come right back and upset No. 2 Foothill and No. 3 Beckman, had finally ended.
"Yeah, we lost, but we weren't even expected to make it out of second round," senior goalie Sarah Hostetler said. "That's how we're going to end this season, this miracle story, the biggest underdogs in the world coming out and playing Los Al and beating Beckman and Foothill. None of us are crying because we lost; we're crying because we're going to miss each other so much. This team is a family, every single senior to the sophomores.
"It's the most electric feeling, being out there with these girls. I can't wait for the banquet, for us to see each other again."
No. 7-seeded CdM (17-4) played a very competitive first half against top-seeded Los Alamitos (17-2), which captured its fourth straight Orange County title. The Sea Kings, making their first appearance in the South Division (Orange County) finals, jumped out to a 4-3 advantage with 12:17 left in the first half. Sabrina Smith, Kacie Kline, Cassidy Napolitano and Gabby Smith all scored, and Los Al Coach Liz Connelly was forced to call the game's first timeout.
But CdM would go scoreless for the rest of the half. Junior goalie Emily Alpaugh (11 saves) made key saves late in the half for the Griffins, who took a 7-4 halftime advantage. Just before the buzzer she blocked a quick shot by CdM senior captain Torrey Attyah.
"I feel like we were kind of shooting right at her, making her stand out more than she should have," Attyah said. "We needed to throw fakes. But I feel like whenever we had a chance to go to goal, we were so excited. We didn't really place it; we were more focused on just getting to the goal. That kind of messed us up in the end."
Draw controls led to goals for the Griffins early in the second half. Haley Fessenden, Grace Schmidt-Beck and Keaton Otake all scored in the first four minutes of the half, completing a seven-goal run that staked Los Al to a 10-4 lead. It was the third goal for all three players, giving them all hat tricks.
"It was just a combination of some missed shots and some fouls," said CdM Coach Aly Vislocky, who now heads to the Women's Collegiate Lacrosse Associates nationals in Colorado as an assistant coach for Chapman University. "When you have two good teams, it comes down to draw controls and who finishes on the draws. When you don't finish, then it gives them an opportunity to go up by one."
By the time Attyah scored on a pass from Ally Brahs with 12:23 left in the game, cutting the lead to 10-5, the Sea Kings had gone nearly 25 minutes without a goal.
Connelly said her message to her Los Al squad at halftime was simple.
"I told them to keep their heads cool, because nobody, nobody wanted to see us win this game," Connelly said. "They did a very good job, despite every obstacle that we faced, to stay cool, competitive and have some fun. That's what we do ... At this point, I think we're getting comfortable with a target on our back. We like that."
At the same time, Connelly said she had plenty of respect for what the Sea Kings accomplished this year.
"I'll be honest, I'm so happy for them," Connelly said. "I coach a bunch of their girls with Team OC, I coach with Aly Vislocky, I've coached with 'Cujo' [assistant coach Curtis Jordan]. They're great girls, great coaches, great community. It's exciting to see new teams in, and Orange County lacrosse is getting a heck of a lot more competitive. That's the fun part. That's why I moved out here, to grow the entire county, and it's certainly growing."
Otake and Schmidt-Beck each scored four goals for Los Alamitos.
Gabby Smith, CdM's other senior captain, joined Attyah with two goals. Her younger sister, Sabrina, had a team-high five draw controls, and Brahs had a team-high five groundballs. Both Smith sisters and Paige Miller had a pair of groundballs for CdM.
Brahs had two assists for the Sea Kings, Kendall Mulvaney had one and Hostetler made seven saves. Defensive starters Kylie Mulvaney, Meredith Davin, Ashley Kelegian and Shannon Griffin helped on the back line all season for CdM, which ended the year ranked No. 15 in the state by laxpower.com. Los Alamitos, which will play either Palos Verdes or Mira Costa in the Southern Section title match Saturday at Mission Viejo High, is ranked No. 4 in the state.
The Griffins are also going for their fourth straight Southern Section title. The Sea Kings are going home with a bunch of memories from their historic year. The seniors can know that they've set the bar high.
"I'm still amazed that we made it to the finals," Attyah said. "I'm honored to be on a team that for the first time in CdM history could make it this far. Obviously, it would have been nice to finish it.
"I've just grown so close with all these people, and they've become like family to me. It's hard, after five years of playing lacrosse, that it's just ending. But I'm just thankful for everything that's happened and how far we've come, for sure."