MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - The best offense may not always be a good defense, but a solid back line definitely boosted Woodland in their 2-2 (4-3 PK) shootout victory over St. Francis in the quarterfinals of the CIF NorCal Division II Girls Soccer Championships.
Woodland (19-1-5) came off of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III Championship, in which they knocked off higher seed Central Valley and Rio Americano to win their way into NorCals.
“We’re excited to have the opportunity to play in Division II,” said Woodland coach Andres Olmedo. “Having played mostly against Division IV teams, this is an amazing opportunity.”
Woodland had previously won the SJS Division IV Championship in 2017, but this is the first season of the NorCal tournament. Their stellar 18-1-2 record last season proved not to be a fluke, as they went 16-1-5 in regular season play this year. Playing from the #4 seed, Woodland notched together three consecutive victories by a score of 1-0 en route to the championship.
“Coming in as the lower seed in the bracket we knew it was going to be tough to win the game,” added Olmedo. “I knew it was going to be a battle down to the wire, but we just came out and got it done.”
Woodland found a fierce opponent in St. Francis (13-8-3), who came off their first CCS Division I Championship since 2011.
“League play was a bit of a rough ride,” noted Lancer defenseman Lily Perryman. “We definitely grew as the season went on, but we did not end the regular season as well as we wanted to. Postseason is where I think we really found ourselves and were able to get into a bit of a groove.”
The Lancers, who scored 14 goals in the CCS tournament, began the game with a strong and sustained attack. Forward Katie Bocian and midfielders Emma Blackburne and Catherine Paulson led the Lancers to three shots on net and full possession of the ball in the first eleven minutes before the Wolves were able to advance past midfield in the eleventh minute.
“The high tempo game played by the offense allows us to keep possession and to create opportunities by shifting their defense around,” said defenseman and team captain Lily Perryman. “It also gives us on defense some time to catch our breath and recuperate.”
“We have really fast wingers,” added Bocian. “Because of this, we’re able to put balls over the top (of the defensive line) and feed the rush.”
The Wolves would draw first blood, however, as striker Jessica Salas would tip the ball into the net off a corner kick in the 17th minute. The Lancers would respond with the equalizer in the twentieth minute on a breakaway goal by Catherine Paulson, with some help from her sister Sarah.
“As a midfielder, you have to transition fast from offense to defense (and vice versa),” said Paulson. “On defense we look to press most of the game because if we can keep the possession mainly with us, then they have less chances to score. This helps our offense because when we put the other team under pressure, it can cause them to make mistakes and we can go straight to the goal.”
The Lancers would main control for the rest of the half, as they posted six shots on net to the Wolves’ two.
The pressure would carry on to the second half, as Paulson finessed her way to a couple of scoring chances in the 45th and 52nd minute. While on a break with Blackburn and midfielder Bella Panaccione, Paulson followed through with the brace in the 61st minute. However, Woodland striker Ari Coronado would loft a ball off the crossbar and over the hands of goalkeeper Tierney White to tie the score at 2-2 in the following minute.
“One of the main focus points of our team is that when we get the counter attack, we’re gonna go in hard,” said Coronado. “We’re gonna make sure we’ll make something out of it instead of having to re-track and play defense right away. We want to make sure we set ourselves up so that we’re actually comfortable going up top and keep the pressure going.”
Momentum swayed back and forth as both teams began to fight for possession in the attacking zone. Wolves midfielder Lala Marin and Lancer midfielder Makayla Bloyd both posted opportunities in the final ten minutes of the second half, but neither team could maintain pressure.
“As a defensive player it is always a bit intimidating to play a team that counter attacks and transitions really quickly,” notes Perryman, “but it is manageable. Luckily we did a great job of covering one another so all the weight was never on one person's shoulder.”
Following regulation, the Lancer offense threatened to score in overtime, but was shut out by senior goalkeeper Mackenzie Hatanaka.
Hatanaka would remain solid while facing penalty shots, as she posted the lone save in the shootout (two shots from the Lancers and Wolves each missed the net).
“The last five games that we played prior to this it’s been battles,” said coach Olmedo. “I just told the girls it was going to be another battle. Through the section championships, each game was a battle, and we went 4-for-4. We respected the opposing team in the beginning, but once we got comfortable in there, then we just played our game and took it to the end.”
Woodland moves on to face the #1 seed Maria Carrillo in Santa Rosa on Thursday at 5 PM.