LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Early in the season as it is, Friday afternoon's Prep League showdown between host Flintridge Prep and archrival Pasadena Poly was accompanied by the proverbial big-game feel, as fans lined the field, every call or non-call was scrutinized and the play was ever physical.
But as big as the contest might have felt, it concluded with both the Rebels and Panthers walking away with just a point apiece in the standings after a 1-1 tie at Flintridge Prep.
"I'm not frustrated at all," said Rebels Coach Esteban Chavez of the tie, which put Prep at 8-2-3 overall and 1-0-1 in league. "It's a good team that we played. They're more balanced than I thought.
"I'm not disappointed at all."
The scoring came early, as Poly (8-0-2, 2-0-1) took a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute when Sarah Mendenhall, who would give the Rebels defense fits all day long, sent a beautiful shot into the far corner of the net, dipping just under the crossbar.
Flintridge Prep answered almost immediately, however, as Kaitlyn Kelleher had a shot saved, but the rebound was put on frame by Brooke Elby, whose shot was also saved before Arielle Baptiste finally converted to tie the match in the eighth minute.
"It was a bunch of us crowded into the box," said Baptiste, who suffered a hip injury early in the game, but played through it for much of the remainder of the match. "It came right to me, so I just ripped it."
Chavez was particularly impressed with the character showed by his team to rebound so quickly after falling behind.
"The fact that they scored on us and we answered right back, that was a huge difference for us," Chavez said.
While the scoring concluded in the eighth minute, the drama did not.
Elby, Baptiste and Connell Studenmund pushed a first-half offensive attack for the Rebels that clearly won the possession battle. That all changed in the second half, though, as the Panthers and their style won out the majority of the time.
The Panthers implemented a more physical style, had their four-player backline firmly entrenched on the defensive side of the field and, offensively, played longer passes, which worked well on a relatively shoddy Prep field that featured dead grass and a muddy softball diamond that hindered the Panthers in the first half and the Rebels in the second.
"I think they respect us," said Chavez of Poly's staunch defensive approach.
Hence, when the likes of Baptiste or Elby would advance on the offensive end, runs usually ended with them checked to the ground or bottled up by multiple defenders.
"They were definitely the kind of team that would press on you," said Baptiste, who along with fellow forward Alina Okamoto and starting defender Jordan Hutson were hindered by injuries, the latter missing most of the season half. "When we play feet, it's really tough to turn."
The second half saw Poly take nine shots to Prep's three, but goalie Casey Cousineau was steady in net for the Rebels, tallying six of her eight saves in the latter half. The defense, keyed by Studenmund and Whitney Cohen was also steady, though the Panthers did their best to claw out a late goal.
The Panthers had two free kicks just outside the goal box in the final 10 minutes, with both saved by Cousineau, who also punched away a corner kick on net in the final minute.
Prep's best, and likely only two true scoring chances in the second half came on a beautiful, arcing shot by Baptiste that hit the crossbar and then when Okamoto dropped a pass in front to Kaelin King, who popped a shot over net.
The teams are scheduled to meet once more on Jan. 28 at Poly.
"I'll take a tie," said Chavez of Friday's result before adding that he definitely saw some elements that he can adjust. "I saw a few things that we can make adjustments for next time."