Oilers second in SoCal
SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — The future appears bright for the Huntington Beach High girls’ soccer team, which will graduate just three seniors overall and two starters.
But promise for the future should do nothing to detract from this season, one in which the Oilers accomplished things that no soccer team has ever done in school history.
The swallows are supposed to come back to San Juan Capistrano in March. On this Saturday afternoon in March, it was the Oilers who came to San Juan Capistrano to play in their first CIF title game.
JSerra did not comply with Huntington Beach’s title dreams. In a game that was eerily similar to the Lions’ 2-1 victory over the Oilers in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 semifinals, this time the Lions beat the Oilers by the same score to win the CIF Southern California Regional Division I title.
Senior Samantha Hobert and freshman Samantha Williams scored for the Lions (23-1-3), the No. 2-ranked team in the state by TopDrawerSoccer.com. They followed their first Southern Section title with their first SoCal Regional crown, after winning their first Trinity League title.
“It was just insane, because we’ve built this program up from freshman year,” said the Arizona State-bound Hobert. “These girls kill it. There’s not one person on this field that didn’t do what they could to make this a win. It was never once [about] me, it was every single one of us on that field.”
Like in the teams’ first meeting 11 days earlier at the Oilers’ field, Huntington Beach scored late on Saturday. This time it was junior co-captain Alijah Oliver on a header in the 79th minute, assisted by freshman Xolani Hodel. Oliver collided with JSerra freshman goalie Ryan Campbell, but the ball went in the back of the net, cutting the No. 8-seeded Oilers’ deficit in half.
Six minutes of stoppage time later, however, top-seeded JSerra had again come out on top.
The first half was scrappy on both sides, with both teams generating opportunities. The Oilers had three free kicks from the Lions’ side of the field, each time as sophomore Jenna Nighswonger was fouled, but nothing materialized. Huntington Beach’s best chance to score came in the 33rd minute, when Nighswonger played a ball to Summer Stewart, who found fellow freshman Cina Wilson in the box. Wilson appeared to be tripped up as Campbell came out to get the ball out of danger, but the borderline penalty kick was not called.
The hosts took the lead six minutes later, after a corner kick that the Oilers couldn’t clear. Senior Nikki Font played the ball back in to another senior co-captain, Hobert, whose shot slowly rolled into the left corner of the net.
In the Division 1 semifinal match on Feb. 28, JSerra had scored the game’s first goal at a similar time, in the 42nd minute.
“The worst time to give up a goal is the first five minutes of the half and the last five minutes of the half,” said Huntington Beach senior keeper Rachel Harris, who made seven saves. “You don’t want to start a half down 1-0. I mean, we couldn’t clear the ball and we were just caught out of position. And as soon as they scored that second one, I was like, ‘It’s deja vu.’ I knew that we were going to get one, unfortunately it came in the last two minutes. I mean, we had chances all game, we just couldn’t finish. Sam Hobert is just a stud; she was winning everything in the air. They’re a really good team.”
The Oilers did accomplish what no other team had been able to do in JSerra’s postseason run: hold sophomore standout Isabella D’Aquila scoreless. D’Aquila, who led Orange County with 34 goals this season, had a great chance after a sudden shot from 30 yards out in the 43rd minute. But Harris leaped to deflect the ball over the bar.
JSerra’s lead went to 2-0 two minutes later. In the 45th minute, a long free kick from defender Bella Beltran eventually found the feet of Williams in the right side of the box. A defensive communication breakdown led to an empty net, and Williams’ shot back across the goal to the left was good.
Huntington Beach (20-9-4) kept battling, and Oliver’s late strike gave the Oilers hope. But they ran out of time.
Harris, especially, was emotional after the game ended. She and Hodel had another game Saturday night, as part of the Oilers girls’ basketball team. That season also ended after the No. 10-seeded Oilers lost at No. 2 Mater Dei, 65-46, in a CIF State Southern California Regional Division II quarterfinal game.
After the soccer game, Harris was not especially quick to leave the JSerra field. She and the team’s other two seniors, center back Katie Martinez and backup goalie Isabella Rizzo, each addressed the team.
For Huntington Beach, this unprecedented run was memorable, particularly after an up-and-down Sunset League campaign finished with the Oilers in third place. Following the program’s first CIF Southern Section semifinal appearance, Huntington Beach won SoCal regional road games at top-seeded Torrey Pines on Tuesday and No. 4-seeded Fresno Bullard on Thursday to make it to this point.
“Being the underdog,” Harris said when asked what she’d remember most about the season. “Everybody counted us out, it’s always just Los Al and Edison [even though] we won league back to back [in 2015 and ’16]. Everybody’s like, ‘Who’s Huntington Beach?’ We made a name for ourselves. Obviously, it sucks going out not being champions, but you learn and you grow so much going through stuff like this.”
It was that growth, that improvement, that Huntington Beach Coach Raul Ruiz said he also appreciated, for this season as well as going forward.
“For us, as young as we are, I think that it’s a matter of making it a habit from now on,” Ruiz said. “We’re now competing for something from this point on. It’s not just league now, it’s bigger and better things. But just to get here was an accomplishment. Right now, I’m hurting on the inside and I’m sad for my players. Everyone here came out and gave it their best. Things happen for a reason, and unfortunately, it didn’t happen today.
“I think next year this group of girls will be back for something bigger and better. They matured, they fought hard and they did what they could. That’s what I take [from this season]. I’m very proud of them.”