Emotions were high at Hart High School for the Indians girls soccer team after their seventh straight league title came to an abrupt end in the first round of the Division 1 CIF-Southern Section girls soccer championships in a 2-1 loss to Centennial Thursday afternoon.
“I don’t think we ever got our groove,” said Hart head coach Guilherme Mitrovitch. “We were not ready. (Centennial) deserved the win. We picked today to have an off day and it was disastrous.”
The Indians (20-2-3 overall) struggled from the get-go. The Huskies’ quick pace made it difficult for Hart to maintain possession early and a physical back line gave them headaches when trying to set up scoring opportunities.
Despite the frustrations that the Huskies (14-3-2) gave the Indians, Hart was the team that was able to put the most pressure on the opposing defense. Centennial found ways to stay focused and break up the attack.
There were a few occasions where the Hart forwards were getting visibly frustrated at the little mistakes that kept them away from the goal.
“We knew (Centennial) was going to be hard because they don’t let it get behind them,” Mitrovitch said. “Everything is in front of them. They crowd the box a lot. They have numbers and we were not quick enough to react to some of those.”
Centennial jumped in front of the Indians in the 14th minute with a goal from the top right corner of the box that was sent to the opposite post that tripped up Hart junior goalkeeper Megan Kelly.
The Indians aren’t a team that is used to playing from behind. A look at the scoreboard woke them up and they were able to respond in less than a minute.
In the 15th minute, a jumble of bodies tussled for the ball in front of the Centennial goal post. The ball was cleared and rolled to the top of the 18-yard box. Junior Sienna Frye’s great vision and strong soccer instincts allowed her to see an opportunity. She charged the ball from 10 yards away and fired a 24-yard missile into the back of the net.
“That goal really lifted us up,” Mitrovitch said. “We finished the first half really pressuring them.”
Both teams went into halftime in a 1-1 draw.
What ultimately led to the Indians’ downfall was an inability to capitalize on the opportunities they had. Great ball movement led to misplaced shots and almost every Hart corner kick was won by Centennial.
“When a team is winning most of the second balls, when a team is shorter than you and winning most of the headers, well that says a lot,” Mitrovitch said. “They were very well organized defensively. We couldn’t break them, then we started losing patience. At the end of the day, we have a lot of upperclassmen and they have to be more composed and find the right gaps.”
Hart had an opportunity to take its first lead in the game, but strong goalkeeping kept a penalty kick out of the goal.
The Huskies had very few opportunities again in the second half but managed to take advantage of them. Their second goal came late in the 73rd minute.
A corner kick was redirected toward Kelly, who snagged the shot, but she couldn’t hang on. Julia Melchiore attempted to clear to the loose ball but was beat to the kick and it ended up in the back of the net.
With the season over, the future for the Indians is a bit of a question. Hart was a senior-heavy squad this season and will have few returning starters.
However, Kelly believes the team will do just fine based on what she has seen from the younger players. It’s hard to argue with her, she does have the best seat in the house, after all.
“We’re going to be extremely young next year,” Kelly said. “There are only four of us that start that aren’t seniors. The freshman class, now going into the sophomore class is really good. They work hard together. I think we’ll be ok.”
The 2019-20 season was Kelly’s first season in goal for the Indians and working behind a strong defense gave her the opportunity to develop her skills and bring her level of play beyond her predecessor’s.
“I’ve grown since last year,” she said. “It was a big role to fill. My teammates really encouraged me to do my best. (They) were always there for me, even through my mistakes. I don’t think I could do anything without them.”
Just like her team helped her fill some big shoes in her first season as a starter, she believes the other returning starters will be able to help lead next year’s team.
“We just have great chemistry and you can see it on the field,” Kelly said. “Everybody just worked hard, even the people who barely played. You can just tell.”