DOWNEY — A victory away from concluding a dream season, the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy soccer team awoke too late to avoid a nightmare.
Stunned by the fleet feet of Oaks Christian striker Ally Courtnall, stalled by admitted oversight and further hindered by absences and injury, the Tologs fell short of repeating as champions in the CIF Southern California Division III Regional Championships, losing Saturday morning's final to Oaks Christian, 3-1, at Warren High.
"We underestimated them completely," said junior Tera Trujillo, who split time at defender and midfielder, scoring the Tologs' lone goal in the 67th minute as the only answer to the Lions' first-half scoring blitz. "We took it for granted that we were here."
Inside the game's first 18 minutes, which played out seemingly in the blink of an eye, the UCLA-bound Courtnall scored a pair of goals and assisted on another to propel the Lions (26-2-1) to their first-ever regional crown after having claimed the CIF Southern Section Division IV title.
"We said what the heck just happened," said Tologs junior forward Breeana Koemans of the team's reaction to falling behind, 3-0. "We underestimated them."
Courtnall led an offensive attack that matched the combined goal total for the Tologs' previous seven postseason opponents. And with the three goals came not only a championship, but a lofty upset, as the Lions knocked off a Tologs team (23-2-1) that is ranked No. 1 in the nation by ESPN Rise.
"I knew that our speed would get them in trouble up top, at least. …And defensively, I thought we played very well," said Oaks Christian Coach Sebastian Alvarado. "It's pretty cool that we can say we beat the No. 1 team in the nation and we beat the Division I champion."
For the Tologs, who were in search of claiming a triple crown of titles after having won the Mission League and a first-ever CIF Southern Section Division I championship, running through the first two rounds of the regionals with a 6-1 win over Horizon Christian Academy and a 3-0 win over St. Margaret's left them admittedly overconfident as they stepped on the field
"It felt too easy for a second," Koemans said of the tournament, adding that the team also grew confident leading up to the game after seeing that Oaks Christian had lost to common opponents Harvard-Westlake, 6-1, and Saugus, 2-0.
Nothing came easy on Saturday morning for the Tologs, though, as they were without forward Jillian Jacobs and midfielder Krista Meaglia due to prior commitments and played once more without an injured Kayla Mills.
"Without those [missing] starters, it could have been a different game, so we're just keeping our head up," senior defender Natalie Zeenni said. "Obviously, this wasn't the way we wanted it to be, but there's nothing we can do about it, so we're just looking at the bright side."
Making matters far worse, after Courtnall got a step on Zeenni and dipped inside to the left to score on the first shot of the game in the third minute, Sacred Heart's leading scorer was lost for the season.
Roughly six minutes after Courtnall's first score, Koemans played a ball up to Katie Johnson who made a run along the right side before collapsing on the field with a knee injury. Johnson, who finished the year with 23 goals and 12 assists, was carted off the field and remained on the bench for the remainder of the game.
"Losing Katie was a blow to us," Sacred Heart co-Coach Frank Pace said.
In the 16th minute, the speedy Courtnall, who finished the season with 30 goals and 17 assists, struck again, getting a stride on Alexa Montgomery that forced Trujillo to drop to defend her. Forward Bianca Deardorff was left wide open and Courtnall passed left to her and she beat a challenging Lindsey Espe in goal for a 2-0 lead.
Little more than two minutes later, Courtnall made a run up the left sideline and worked past Sarah Teegarden before booting in a left-footed shot to conclude a shocking offensive tour de force.
"We didn't know she was gonna be that good," Zeenni said. "It definitely caught us off-guard.
"We underestimated them, it pretty much comes down to that."
Sacred Heart limped into halftime, but emerged in the second half with a far better run of play, though Oaks was still on its game for much of the time, as well, with the teams combining for 17 second-half shots and the Tologs taking 10.
For much of the last 20 minutes of the match, though, Sacred Heart controlled the flow of the game, culminating with Trujillo's goal, which came on a direct kick from 30 yards out.
"Sacred Heart doesn't go down easy," Koemans said. "Sacred Heart doesn't give up."
The Tologs looked to have struck again when a hustling Montgomery forced the Oaks Christian keeper out of the net and then played the ball back in front of frame, where a melee ensued and concluded with Haley James tapping the ball in. The goal was disallowed on a foul call, however.
Not long after, the Tologs' season — the most successful in program and area girls' soccer history — came to a halt with a loss that was its first since January.
"It wasn't our day," Tologs co-Coach Kathy Desmond said. "Pretty simple."
But judging by the Tologs' reactions, coaches included, the loss didn't blur the notion that it was indeed the Tologs' season after claiming a Southern Section title that boosted them into ESPN Rise's top spot in the country.
"If at the beginning of the season, somebody came up to me and said, 'You're gonna win Mission League and you're gonna win CIF Division I, but you have to come in second in the regionals,' Kathy and I would have said where do we sign up," Pace said. "I'll take that result."
Said Koemans: "We're still No. 1."