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Monday, December 15, 2008
Esperanza-Wilson is early highlight of winter season

By Sheldon Shealer
ESPNRISE.com

The winter national title will never be decided in December, but Monday's girls soccer meeting between FAB 50 No. 1 Esperanza (Calif.) and No. 9 Long Beach Wilson (Calif.) certainly could play a major part in the championship chase.

Kylie Bono
Kylie Bono is all smiles as Esperanza is the FAB 50 No. 1 team.

Wilson was last year's FAB 50 No. 1 team, but graduated seven starters.

Esperanza, a top 25 team last year behind a slew of talented underclassmen, began this year at No. 1.

Esperanza is 6-0-0 and Wilson is 4-0-0 entering Monday's 8 p.m. ET clash in the final of the Aliso Niguel Tournament.

"It's a good measuring stick for us," Wilson coach Jason Kirkwood said Sunday night. "Our goal is to win tournaments, and we have a chance to defend one of our titles Monday [Wilson won the Aliso title last year]. Our results in the preseason are very important to us."

Esperanza has received a lot of preseason attention with top prospects Kylie Bono and Courtney Garcia. Wilson, meanwhile, entered the season with only three returning starters and little realistic hope of defending a national title. However, the perfect start has pushed Wilson's undefeated streak to 27 matches dating to a loss in the Excalibur Tournament late last December and raised expectations.

"This is mentally tough," Kirkwood said of the team's undefeated streak. "It's hard to make sure [the players] stay focused. … This isn't last year's team. Truth is we still need to find ourselves."

So far, Wilson has been winning with defense. The team has not allowed a goal while managing only six goals in four matches. Sophomore Kim Marshall (two goals) and junior Emily Dillon (one goal, two assists) are the team's top offensive threats. Junior Kaitlin Hellmann has been a controlling force in midfield.

Esperanza enters the match with a high-powered offense led by Bono (five goals, one assist) and Garcia (four goals, two assists). Esperanza had a more difficult road to the final, beating Palos Verdes, El Toro and Los Alamitos. Bono scored the winner in the 1-0 victory over El Toro while Garcia chalked up a goal in the team's 2-0 win over Los Alamitos in the Aliso Tournament semifinals.

Although the season is in the early stages, the teams have one common opponent - Etiwanda. Esperanza pinned a 7-0 non-league defeat on Etiwanda while Wilson got by the same team 2-0 in the Aliso Tournament.

Sheldon Shealer covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.