Defending champs dethroned

MISSION VIEJO — It was a conclusion as unfitting as it was unsettling.

A missed kick, a missed save and a missed opportunity saw the defense of the only CIF Southern Section Division I girls' soccer title in area chronicle conclude before it really even got started.

On the strength of a sudden-death score by Katie Hinman just more than three minutes into overtime that came to be after a Tologs defender missed the ball on a clearing kick and the subsequent Hinman shot squirted through the grasp of goaltender Lindsey Espe before trickling over the goalline, host Capistrano Valley defeated the division's reigning champion, 3-2, in the first round of postseason play Friday afternoon in Mission Viejo at Capistrano Valley High.

A stone's throw from Mission Viejo High, where the Tologs had won the CIF championship against San Clemente just a season ago, Sacred Heart looked far removed from that championship squad, with a plethora of missing players and uncharacteristic play telling the tale of a season suddenly over.

"You just can't make those mistakes," said senior captain Breeana Koemans. "You can't make those mistakes in DI, especially when we were fighting so hard."

Down, 1-0, at halftime, the Tologs (13-5-3) came out listless, failing to maintain possession and connect on passes. But with roughly 25 minutes left, Sacred Heart began to settle in and tied the game when Koemans scored off a Laura Thompson throw-in. Just three minutes later, Capistrano Valley's Anne Hinman juked past her mark for a close-up shot that she buried to go back ahead, 2-1. Still, the Tologs came back again when Thompson cashed in a Cougars turnover deep in their own end and blasted a shot inside the far post to tie it at 2.

"We picked it up and we came back — we came back twice," Koemans said. "When we came back the second time, we had it. We had it on their side of the field the entire time."

But there was no chance for a comeback after Katie Hinman's goal, which ended the season and the days of the most successful Tologs class in program and area history.

Koemans, along with the likes of fellow seniors Katelyn Almeida and Alexa Montgomery — who shuffled back and forth between defense and midfield all day and both turned in standout performances — Espe, Lauren Torres, Jillian Jacobs, Tera Trujillo and Katie Johnson — the latter two having missed the entire season due to knee injuries — were key components of a successful four-year run in which the Tologs captured their only two Mission League titles, their first and only CIF Southern California Division III Regional Championship and last year's aforementioned first-ever divisional crown. But with Trujillo, Johnson and junior Krista Meaglia missing the entire season, the likes of Jacobs and junior Savanah Viola dealing with injuries and Kayla Mills and Hanna Armendariz (who did not play on Friday) missing marked time due to club obligations throughout the year, Friday's game was very much a microcosm of the season, as the Tologs flashed plenty of brilliance, but couldn't come away with the overall performance or outcome that past seasons has seen them grow accustomed to.

"It's been the story all year. We haven't developed any continuity, because we've played who was here, we played who was healthy," said Sacred Heart co-Coach Frank Pace. "We really could only play offense or defense [on Friday]. When we played offense, we sacrificed defense. When we played defense, we sacrificed offense."

It showed Friday, as the Tologs, who finished second in the Mission League, clearly lacked chemistry on the field with injuries and absences taking their toll. Even still, they dominated possession in the second half and seemed to have momentum clearly on their side heading into overtime.

"We really started picking it up, even though we shouldn't have had to," Koemans said. "We didn't play our best at all, but we really did start picking it up."

The first half saw the Tologs win the shot advantage, 9-1, but still come away with a 1-0 deficit after an Ashley Ballantyne goal in the 34th minute.

"We had good looks in the first half [that] we didn't get through," Pace said.

With Almeida and Montgomery being moved up, Sacred Heart's offense gathered strength, but as Pace said, the defense also waned, with Capistrano Valley (11-5-6), the second-place squad out of the Sea View League, using its speed up top to produce threatening runs aplenty.

"They had a lot of runs, but then Alexa knocked them down," Pace said.

Or Almeida. But it was one last run that spelled the end of the Tologs' season and, in turn, the days of Pace and co-Coach Kathy Desmond on the sideline.

The duo has manned the Sacred Heart sideline for 14 seasons, with Desmond having taken over the program four seasons before Pace joined her. Assistant Cesar Hidalgo, who had a successful three-year run as the Crescenta Valley head coach, will take over, but Pace said he and Desmond would still be heavily involved in the program and its development and goings-on, with Hidalgo taking the reins as it relates to coaching.

When Hidalgo officially takes over next year, he'll look to the likes of returners Armendariz, Thompson, Mills, Viola, Sarah Teegarden and Kendall Sandoval among others, who all had ample playing time with the backdrop of injury and absence that ultimately colored Sacred Heart's season.

"This team had a heckuva season. We won 13 games ... [before] losing to a good team on their field on a golden goal," Pace said. "The silver lining is we have a lot of kids that will be back next year who got a lot of playing time."

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