The Hawaiian culture is very meaningful for Sage Hill School sophomore Claire Novotny, whose mother, Debbie, is from the islands.
The family went to Roy's, a Hawaiian fusion restaurant in Fashion Island, to celebrate Claire turning 16 a couple of weeks back. The next day, Claire received a Paradise cake, a light sponge cake that's another Hawaiian tradition.
Combine that with the fact that Claire's father Lance, a Latin teacher at Sage Hill, is from Idaho. The thought makes Claire giggle.
"[My mom] married a 'haole,'" Claire Novotny said. "I think it's a Hawaiian term for 'white boy.' Whenever we see my grandparents, her parents, it's like, 'Oh yeah, Debbie married a haole.'"
When Claire was much younger, Debbie even had her oldest daughter take up hula dancing. Again, Claire begins to giggle when she thinks of it. But it wasn't for her.
"I hated that, because it was, like, forced," Claire Novotny said. "As a kid, you don't want to be confined to doing dance steps. That was my opinion. I wanted to run around on the field and do my own thing. I do kind of regret stopping, because not that many people do it and it's very cultural and traditional."
Another tradition that Claire is familiar with is rival St. Margaret's beating Sage Hill in Academy League girls' soccer. It seems to happen twice every year.
This year, Claire, a sophomore center midfielder, helped put an end to that.
The Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week scored on a free kick in the 73rd minute at home, the game-winning goal as the Lightning bested the rival Tartans, 2-1, on Jan. 24 at home. It was Sage Hill's first win over St. Margaret's since 2008, the year the Lightning won the only league title in program history. This year's win also marked the first time the Lightning had ever scored more than one goal against its rival.
Novotny volleyed her direct strike, from the right side and just outside the box, across the goal and into the upper-left corner.
"I was really nervous," she said of her second goal of the season. "I thought, 'I'm going to blow it,' because I've done that before. [Junior teammate] Paige Burke [who scored the other Sage Hill goal] was standing by the ball when I was walking up to it. I was like, 'Paige, I can't do this! This is so much pressure!'"
Novotny did it. Several minutes later, the Lightning had the win they'd been waiting on for years.
"It was like the weight of the world was gone," Novotny said. "Everyone was just so happy, jumping up and down, screaming and yelling ... We finally did it. We scored on St. Margaret's and beat them."
The Lightning (10-5-2, 6-1 in league), who finished third in league last year, remain in contention for the league title. Entering Friday, Sage Hill was just a half-game behind Crean Lutheran, which is ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section Division 5 poll. Crean beat Sage Hill, 2-1, in the teams' first meeting Jan. 18, as the Lightning got an early goal from senior Meg Crade but couldn't hold the lead.
The teams meet again Feb. 8 at 5 p.m. at Sage Hill. It's part of a tough end to league for the Lightning, who play at St. Margaret's in the league finale on Feb. 13.
Novotny is a big reason why the Lightning are in the mix. First-year Coach Mike Hammond, an experienced club coach at Freedom Futbol Club in the Chino Hills area, said Novotny might be his most consistent player.
"A lot of it is her athletic ability," Hammond said. "She has the endurance to get up and down the field ... She's very good at transitioning from offense to defense."
Novotny, who plays club soccer for the Pateadores, has gained experience at Sage Hill. Last year as a freshman she was a stopper, playing in the back with then-seniors Sophia Witte, Francesca D'Agostino and Campbell Moore. All three of them were team captains.
"It was like, 'Oh my goodness, don't hurt me if I mess up!'" Novotny said. "But I think I learned so much from them on defense. They were the ones who wanted to beat St. Margaret's the most ... it was that intense, competitive vibe, but it was a good intense, competitive vibe."
Novotny now plays in the midfield, again alongside team captains, senior Allie Mowrey and sophomore Janis Jin. Soon, she could even play alongside her sister. Maile Novotny is an eighth-grader at St. John the Baptist in Costa Mesa, and she also plays soccer.
According to Claire, her younger sister is faster than she is. But the Lightning still can be very glad that the older Novotny is on the squad.
Her goal against St. Margaret's was just as sweet as a slice of Paradise cake.
"It's not heavy," Claire Novotny said of her favorite treat. "It's one of those cakes where you can eat three pieces and not feel really bad."
She giggled again and smiled. Lately she has plenty of reasons to feel happy.
Born: Jan. 13, 1998
Coach: Mike Hammond
Favorite food: Japanese food
Favorite movie: "Life is Beautiful"
Favorite athletic moment: Helping Sage Hill beat St. Margaret's for the first time in six years.
Week in review: Novotny scored the game-winning goal on a free kick in the 73rd minute as the Lightning beat Academy League rival St. Margaret's, 2-1, on Jan. 24. It was Sage's first win over St. Margaret's since 2008.