LOS ANGELES — As a showcase for two of the most talented and potent girls' soccer teams in the nation, Wednesday evening's clash between host Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy and archrival Harvard-Westlake more than lived up to the hype.
But as a showcase to determine the best of the best as it relates to the Mission League, Wednesday's evening's battle left everything unsettled.
The Tologs rallied from an early one-goal deficit only to relinquish a one-goal halftime advantage en route to a 2-2 tie with the Wolverines at Occidental College in both teams' league opener.
"I think it's a little bit of both," said Tologs standout forward Katie Johnson when posed with the question as to whether it was a positive outcome or a negative. "It's a good tie, because we played really well on offense.
"[On defense], all we had to do was make two mistakes and we did that."
Both mistakes came at the fleet feet of Harvard-Westlake's Danielle Duhl, who drew first blood for the Wolverines (7-0-3) with a goal in the eighth minute, before senior Alyssa Conti scored the equalizer for the Tologs (8-0-1) less than a minute later.
Sophomore Savannah Viola put Sacred Heart ahead with a score in the 26th minute, but Duhl answered once more in the 45th minute.
"It's a tie," said Sacred Heart co-Coach Frank Pace, whose team went 1-0-1 against the Wolverines last season, but still finished runner-up in the league standings. "We're still getting it all together. We're a very good team and they're a very good team."
The credentials for both squads coming in were staggering, as Sacred Heart, which won the CIF Southern California Division III Regionals Championships and advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division II semifinals last season, entered the contest as the top-ranked team in the state via ESPN Rise and the No. 7 team in the nation. In the same polls, Harvard-Westlake is ranked fifth in the state and 15th in the country.
While the scoreboard didn't show a discrepancy between the two teams on Wednesday, the shot totals certainly did, as Sacred Heart bombarded Harvard-Westlake with 24 shots, answered by nine from the Wolverines. In net, Tologs keeper Lindsey Espe had just two saves to make, while Harvard-Westlake goalie Reba Magier made 13.
"Statistically, we had the better run of the game and their goalkeeper was the player of the game," Pace said. "That's why it was a 2-2 tie."
Perhaps the play of the game, or at least the most symbolic, came in the third minute, when Johnson let loose on a beautiful shot that appeared to be arcing in for a goal only to crack the crossbar, giving Jillian Jacobs a brief attempt at a rebound, but her header sailed over the net.
"I thought it was gonna go in," said Johnson of the first of seven shots she took on the night. "As a team, we were working well. It's just unlucky, I guess. We had a lot of chances, we just need to finish."
Duhl finished the Wolverines' first shot of the match when she took a throw-in from Mckynzie Dickman that rolled through to the middle of the box where Duhl was left wide open and blasted a low line drive that Espe had no chance to stop.
Just shy of 60 seconds later in the ninth minute, Conti let go on a perfect corner kick that curved inside the far post and above the reach of Magier for a 1-1 deadlock.
It began a stretch in which the Tologs blitzed the opposing net with opportunity after opportunity from the likes of Natalie Zeenni, Johnson, Tera Trujillo, another corner from Conti that almost went in and finally a shot by Jacobs that Magier made a dazzling, diving save on. At one point midway through the first half, Sacred Heart owned an 8-1 shot disparity.
The Tologs finally cashed in once more when junior Lauren Torres switched the ball to Viola, who promptly turned and floated a picturesque shot into the far corner that dropped in during the 26th minute.
Harvard-Westlake certainly didn't go away, unleashing a free kick that Espe initially saved, but let roll from her grasp. A rebound shot was on frame but saved and kicked away by Zeenni, the reigning All-Area Player of the Year.
Off a pass from Katie Speidel, Duhl raced down the far side of the field, blowing past her mark and knocking home a 2-2 tie in the 45th minute. It was the only score of the second half and certainly anything but emblematic of how the final 40 minutes went down, as Sacred Heart took 11 shots to just three for Harvard-Westlake.
The Tologs, who will face the Wolverines on the road Jan. 24, had no less than three golden opportunities in a half in which both Duhl and Speidel, their team's top scorers, were dropped back on defense to essentially preserve the tie.
In one sequence, Johnson had a step on her mark and Magier came out to challenge, stopping a point-blank shot that rolled to Conti, who had her subsequent point-blank shot stopped by Magier, as well.
The second half also marked the return of Sacred Heart junior forward Breeana Koemans, a reigning All-Area and All-CIF selection who missed the previous five games with an ankle injury. Koemans had a chance to write a bit of a storybook ending when she took a pass from Krista Meaglia up close, turned and shot only to be robbed by a diving save.
"I don't get frustrated because of stuff like that," said Pace of all his team's close chances that came up empty. "I get frustrated when we don't work hard or we're undisciplined. We worked hard and we were disciplined.
"We look forward to playing them on their field."