Los Angeles Soccer: Stacey Finnerty
Aliso Niguel rallied for two goals in the final 15 minutes to claim a 2-1 triumph over their South Coast League archrival to win the Division 1 title at Mission Viejo High School.
“Dudes, this is frickin' awesome ...,” Dodge exclaimed as the Wolverines (19-1-5) collected their trophy. “We weathered their storm, and our kids just believed. Our kids just believed. One thing we talked about was no regrets ever.”
Sophomore forward Dominique Bond-Flasza netted the winner with a little more than seven minutes to go, poking home a loose ball after Ashley McCutcheon's header from Ashley Ramirez's corner kick was blocked on the goal line by San Clemente's Ally Lynn.
It gave Aliso Niguel, from Aliso Viejo, its second CIF soccer crown and ensured its participation in next week's CIF Southern California Regional Championship, the closest thing California has to a state tournament. The Wolverines are fifth in ESPNHS's Fab 50 national rankings.
San Clemente (18-3-7), the only team to beat Aliso this season, lost in the final for the third straight year. The Tritons were making their fifth successive title-game appearance and seeking their sixth championship in 11 years.
“We always play great soccer,” said San Clemente coach Stacey Finnerty, whose team, No. 4 on ESPNHS's list, went 1-2-1 against Aliso this year and hadn't lost since a Mater Dei tournament defeat to the Wolverines in mid-December. “You play against a team that kicks it constantly and [is] physical, it got to us at the end of the game. It wasn't quality soccer, but it worked today. We couldn't keep our quality game.”
Nikki Faris gave the Tritons a 14th-minute lead, catching star Aliso goalkeeper Sammi Jo Prud'homme off her line, but the Wolverines started taking control at the end of the first half, were unfortunate not to equalize shortly after halftime and received a goal-saving clearance from Jordan Ansara midway through the second half.
San Clemente High School's reputation as a girls' soccer powerhouse took a beating of sorts Saturday night, but Tritons coach Stacey Finnerty certainly didn't mind.
“Give him a big kiss for me,” she texted as a few reporters prepared to greet giddy Mike Pronier after his boys' team added to the school's haul of soccer trophies with a victory over Buchanan, from Clovis, in the Southern California Regional Division I final.
This kind of success is expected from Finnerty's girls, who have won seven CIF Southern Section championships, plus the 2008 regional title -- with a victory over Buchanan -- and fell just short this year, losing in the section Division 1 title game and the regional semifinals.
The boys are tasting it for the first time.
“I'm speechless,” Pronier said after an impressive 4-1 triumph at Warren High School in Downey over a team that hadn't conceded a playoff goal. “It's, like, when we started, we knew we had a good team. We went through some ups and downs, and you can do all the coaching in the world, but it wasn't until they got together at the end of our league season, dyed their hair and did mohawks that we really turned the corner on the season.
“I don't know what that means, but they came together and got better and better, and to finish in this style, with a great offensive performance, is indicative of the team they are.”
Star forward Steve Palacios, sporting a brick-red mohawk, was the catalyst, scoring one goal, sending in a cross for another and crashing shots off the crossbar and left post in an inspired performance despite playing with a slightly separated left shoulder.
“He kept bringing it with the shoulder,” Pronier said. “Some people may not have played [with the injury], but we've gone back and forth over the years, because I knew he had that in him, and sometimes he brought it and sometimes he didn't, but he did nothing but bring it every game in the playoffs. Once we got to the playoffs, he brought his best every day, and I'm proud of it.”
Palacios, who's headed to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, noted the unity that spurred the Tritons (20-5-5) to five one-goal victories en route to their first Southern Section boys' soccer title, then three more wins -- by an 8-1 margin -- in the regional playoffs.
“As ridiculous as we look,” Palacios said, “it's all about team bonding, doing something together. If we look stupid, we look stupid together. … And we win together.”