LA CAÑADA — La Cañada High’s girls’ soccer team navigated its way through the regular season without a loss, but now it was time for the postseason and, as Spartans Coach Louie Bilowitz said to his squad before its first-round match on Friday, “This is CIF. Everything is different.”
However, Friday’s opening-round match in the Division V playoffs hosting Heritage Christian proved not to be that different, as La Cañada continued its winning ways to turn a one-goal advantage at halftime into a 4-0 victory and a trip to the second round.
“Going into this game I know a lot of the girls were nervous, including me,” said Spartans sophomore Katherine Sheehy, who scored twice. “But once we got into the second half I just think we started concentrating better and started playing the way we normally play.”
La Cañada (19-0-1) carried a one-goal lead into the second half thanks to a score by Sheehy in the 12th minute. The Spartans did not take long to double that advantage, scoring on their first shot of the second half. Just four minutes in, Sheehy got another goal with Natalie Ragusa recording the assist. Operating in the center of the field, Ragusa made a one-touch pass through the middle to spring Sheehy open for a shot that she made good on.
The Rio Hondo League-champion Spartans stayed on the attack and added another insurance goal in the game’s 54th minute. Spartan Megan Decker gained possession of the ball near the end line on the left before crossing the ball on the ground to the feet of junior Cassy Quiring, who converted the point-blank chance to go up, 3-0.
“We didn’t play well in the first half. We didn’t seem to have the passion and intensity,” Bilowitz said. “I think our girls thought it was an easy game and didn’t have the fire. Second half they kind of woke up after our talk at halftime. The second half they did much, much better.”
Late in the second half, while La Cañada rotated in its substitutes, the Spartans, seeded No. 3 in the division, set the final margin when Ari Aghadjanians assisted Olivia Juse on a goal.
“Everybody played and everybody played good minutes,” Bilowitz said. “Nineteen players contributed and that’s the best part of it.”
Although Heritage Christian (9-11-3) never folded, the No. 3 entry from the Olympic League, never really did produce a quality scoring chance in the match.
“The defense is playing very, very well,” Bilowitz said.
The Spartans’ first-half goal came off a set piece on a corner kick. Brianna Albarian kicked the corner on the ground directly at Olivia Leyva standing at the near post. Leyva let the ball by her, surprising the Warriors keeper, who fumbled the ball back into play. Several players took a swipe at the ball before Sheehy, just feet from the goalmouth near the far post, thumped the ball straight up into the top of the net for the game’s first score.
“That is our go-to,” Leyva said of the set piece that led to the first goal. “I always dummy because I guess I’m a great actor.”
In the second round Wednesday, La Cañada will play California at a site to be determined.
“We need to start the game with a lot of intensity,” Leyva said, “not just playing slow and figuring out what we are doing.”