In Hart High girls soccer’s first two CIF-Southern Section Division 1 playoff games, it had little information on its opponents.
The Indians still managed to defeat Long Beach Poly 2-1 in regulation and Upland 1-0 in double overtime.
If Hart accomplished those wins, what might it do against a team it’s already played – and beaten – this year?
Hart (21-2-4) will face Aliso Niguel High of Aliso Viejo on the road today in a rematch of Hart’s 2-1 win on penalty kicks in preleague tournament play.
The Wolverines (21-1-1) bring speed and a skilled midfield, led by Remy Mathews and Madelyn Desiano.
“If we can keep the middle under control, that can stop all of their offensive chances,” said Hart’s Brooke Rickard of the quarterfinal matchup.
Responding to opponents is something Hart has already proven more than capable of.
Poly and Upland each used formations that the team was unfamiliar with, but by the second half, the Indians had tweaked their approach to gain control of the game.
“We’re really good at adapting to the game,” Rickard said. “Our offense just gets stronger and our defense does, too.”
That solid back line and goalkeeper Victoria Ryan have led the Indians to 12 shutouts this season.
“It’s mainly keeping our shape and communicating and just kind of knowing where our teammates are on the field at all times,” said defender Mia Labrador.
“It’s a lot of dropping and making sure you step to the player. Making sure they don’t turn on you so that they have a shot.”
Since both playoff games have been competitive and close, executing and defending set pieces were another focus in Hart’s practices leading up to Aliso.
A throw-in of the right distance or a corner kick executed to perfection at the right time could be the difference between a win and a loss, as demonstrated by forward Taylor Scott’s double-overtime goal against Upland off a corner.
Physically, the Indians are ready. Now it comes down to the intangibles.
“We all know that Aliso is an aggressive team,” Labrador said. “As long as we match that intensity, it’ll all come down to how mentally focused we are.”