LA CAÑADA — Make way for another championship banner to be unfurled on the campus of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy. Though the latest one might have been a bit unexpected.
A week after falling short in a heartbreaking defeat in the CIF Southern Section Division III championship match, the raw emotions of the Flintridge Sacred Heart soccer team turned to jubilation after winning the CIF Southern California Regional Division III title Saturday. .
Things came together quite well for second-seeded Flintridge Sacred Heart, which received one goal and two assists from Jillian Willis and another impressive defensive effort to earn a hard-fought 3-0 win against No. 5 Culver City at St. Francis High’s Friedman Field.
It marked the third championship in program history. The Tologs (14-5-3) previously won a Division III regional crown in 2010 before capturing the CIF Southern Section Division I title in 2011.
Madison Leroy, Willis and Helena Locateli each scored one goal for Flintridge Sacred Heart, which got stellar efforts from the defensive unit of Lauren Bolte, Allison Risha, Locateli and Madeleine Hara, along with five saves from goalkeeper Natalie Slim to hold Culver City (17-8-4) at bay.
“After what happened last week, we really wanted this,” said Willis, a senior who finished the three-match regional tournament with a team-high six goals. “It’s really an amazing feeling.
“I’m thankful. This is what I worked hard for.”
Flintridge Sacred Heart, which fell, 1-0 to No. 1 Oak Hills in the Southern Section title contest on Feb. 23, opened the regionals with a 7-0 win against No. 7 New West Charter and followed with a 3-2 victory versus No. 3 Grossmont.
The Tologs took a 1-0 lead in the eighth minute on a goal by Leroy, who left the Grossmont match in the first half with an apparent head injury. Willis lined a shot off the inside of the left post and the ball squirted across to Leroy, who controlled the ball and beat Culver City goalkeeper Cara Conway (seven saves).
“It was really big to go out and get that first goal,” Leroy said. “It sets the team up and you just want to keep going.
“The ball hit the post and it seemed to take forever to get across to me and I finally was able to score. You want to be a part of something like this and there’s definitely a lot to be proud of since the first game of the season. I think we were very motivated throughout the playoffs, especially this tournament.”
Flintridge Sacred Heart, which took second in the Mission League, made it 2-0 on a penalty shot by Willis in the first minute of the second half after a Culver City defender was called for a hand-ball inside the box.
Culver City, which shared the Ocean League championship with Beverly Hills, followed with two quality scoring chances that Slim stopped in a two-minute span just before the midway point of the second half.
Slim made a save on a header by Sierra Chabola in the 54th minute and then dove to deny a shot by Jasmine Andrade in the 56th minute.
“I felt a little nervous before the game started, but then the nerves go away once you get started,” said Slim, who got the start after Joshlyn Aguirre sustained an injury against Grossmont. “I thought our defense did a great job at marking and staying tight against a real good team.”
Locateli closed out the scoring in the 72nd minute, when she headed in a free kick by Willis.
Flintridge Sacred Heart coach Mark Snashall, who missed most of the CIF playoffs because of an overseas business trip, said the Tologs regrouped well following the defeat to Oak Hills.
“We didn’t want to lose again,” Snashall said. “We have a lot of good players and they deserve this.”
Said assistant Savannah Viola, who played on the title-winning teams in 2010 and 2011 and filled in for Snashall: “They wanted redemption. It’s incredible [what they were able to accomplish]. Winning the titles as a player was great, but this one is a little more rewarding.”
Culver City coach Pete Bartlett, whose team lost to Oak Hills in the CIF semifinals before turning back No. 4 Mission Oak, 1-0, and No. 1 Oak Hills, 1-1 (4-3 on penalty kicks) in the regionals, said Flintridge Sacred Heart’s offense proved to be the difference.
“I thought the two teams were very evenly matches,” Bartlett said. “Flintridge Sacred Heart just created more chances on offense and we had a little lapse on the first goal. Two of the goals came off set pieces.
“We had a great run throughout the entire playoffs. You have to give Flintridge Sacred Heart credit for what it did, too.”