It's normal to have jitters in a first-round playoff game, so consider the La Cañada High girls' soccer team abnormal.
The Spartans entered their first CIF Southern Section Division VI playoff game against Santiago High calm and collected, and literally ran away with a 9-1 victory, thanks to their speedy forwards, Megan Siepler, Morgan Rittichier and Miranda Dimase-Nordling.
"I personally was nervous, but we knew that we were No. 1 in [the Rio Hondo] League, so we came out confident and played hard," Siepler said.
Despite playing well in the opener, La Cañada's playoff run ended Tuesday in the second round against Tahquitz in Hemet.
The score was tied at 1 after Talia Saleh scored off a corner in the 53rd minute, equalizing a Tahquitz goal from Alexis Cordero in the 36th minute. The game went into overtime and eventually to penalty kicks, where Tahquitz pulled out the victory, 4-3.
La Cañada (13-6-1) Coach Louie Bilowitz said his team entered the first round with the right mindset before being knocked out of the postseason by Tahquitz (7-4-7). They were ready to go from the starting whistle and by the 17th minute they'd already put the game out of reach — jumping out to a 4-0 lead.
The first Spartans goal came in the first minute. Rittichier played a through ball to a wide-open Siepler. Santiago's (5-9-3) goalie, Michelle Zepada, ran way out of the goal, attempting to catch her off guard, but Siepler fired the ball past the goal Zepada. The ball was on its way out of bounds until Rittichier knocked it in, giving La Cañada a 1-0 lead.
Siepler tallied the next two goals on breakaways. She compiled a hat trick — three goals and three assists. Rittichier and Dimase-Nordling each finished the contest with two goals and one assist each.
"It's not that we played particularly well, it's just that our two forwards [Siepler and Rittichier] are way faster than their defense and just outran them," Bilowitz said. "I'm not saying we played better, we just outran them."
It's true, Rittichier and Siepler, the Spartans' forwards, ran circles around Santiago's back four. A well-played ball to either speedster almost always ended up in a scoring opportunity — if not a goal.
Bilowitz didn't know what he was going to get from his youngest, most inexperienced team in the beginning of the season. It's fair to say he's been pleased, after watching his team roll through Rio Hondo League and the first-round of the CIF Division VI playoffs.
Chemistry, coachability and a passion for high-school soccer have been the three main reasons for the team's success, Bilowitz said.
"One thing I was concerned about in the beginning of the year was that there's not a lot of experience here," Bilowitz said. "A lot of them don't play at a high level in the offseason, but that turns out to be very good because high-school soccer is meaningful to them. Sometimes big-team club players don't think much of high school."