Notre Dame/Sherman Oaks at Capistrano Valley: The Cougars come into the playoffs on a roll, having not lost a match in two months. The Knights earned an at-large berth from the Mission League, as they placed fourth. Notre Dame went 1-1-2 in four matches this season against county teams during the regular season, defeating Beckman, losing to Edison, and tying Mater Dei and Orange Lutheran. It wouldn’t surprise if this match is close, but look for Capistrano Valley to advance to the second round.
Winner: Capistrano Valley
Northwood at Yucaipa: The Timberwolves played themselves into contention in the Pacific Coast League with a six-match winning streak and closed the season unbeaten in eight straight matches overall. The Thunderbirds were second in the Citrus Belt League and are led by high-scoring senior forward Ashley Dean (25 goals, 10 assists). I’m tempted to call this match a toss-up, but I don’t pick ties in the playoffs! Northwood’s hot close to the season and the fact that they are playing at home are compelling enough reasons for me to pick a one-goal victory for the Timberwolves.
Foothill at Santa Margarita: In the shadow of some of their more highly publicized league rivals, the Knights quietly put together a strong close to the season, winning four of their final matches to earn the final automatic qualifying spot in the Century League. They will travel down to Rancho Santa Margarita to face an Eagles team that clinched its fourth straight Trinity League title in its regular season finale. There is no denying that Santa Margarita has the talent to make a deep run in the playoffs, but they have been up and down at times this season. Foothill is talented enough to keep this match close, but I will take the Eagles at home.
Winner: Santa Margarita
San Clemente at Upland: The Division 1 playoffs have been the domain of the San Clemente Tritons, who have advanced to the title match in a county-record five straight seasons. But this season has been a tougher than normal one for San Clemente, who had its five-year run atop the South Coast League snapped by a fourth place finish. They will be on the road against an Upland team that won the Baseline League with a 22-3 overall record. The Highlanders were unbeaten this season (4-0-1) against county teams. Upland was also undefeated at home this season. I expect the Tritons to muster a resilient effort befitting a program that is steeped in tradition. But I will go with the Highlanders in a hard-fought match.
Alta Loma at Aliso Niguel: The Braves finished third in the Baseline League, but won four of their final five to sneak into the playoffs. Their only loss in that span came to league champion Upland. The defending CIF-SS Division 1 champion Wolverines snapped a frustrating streak of four straight ties by defeating Mission Viejo in the regular season finale. That win earned them second place in the South Coast League and a home match in the first round. Spurred by an offense that has shown signs of awakening over the last few matches, I like Aliso Niguel advancing into the second round with a solid win.
Winner: Aliso Niguel
Redlands East Valley at Edison: The Wildcats won their last two matches of the season to take the final automatic berth in the Citrus Belt League. However, they went 3-2 in their final five matches of the season and actually finished with a losing overall record for the regular season (10-11-2). The Chargers were in a tight race with Los Alamitos throughout the Sunset League, and though they went undefeated in league (7-0-3), the Griffins edged them by one point to snap their two-year reign as Sunset League champions. With one of the most talent-ladden rosters in the division, I just don’t see Edison’s season ending in the first round.
Laguna Hills at Flintridge Sacred Heart: The Hawks edged El Toro by one-point to earn the final automatic Sea View League playoff spot. Overall, Laguna Hills won only five of their 21 matches this season (including one in their final five league matches). Scoring has also been an issue for Laguna Hills, which scored only three goals in eight matches The Tologs, who won the Division 1 title two years ago, are determined to erase the memory of a first round defeat to Capistrano Valley in last year’s first round. Flintridge Sacred Heart went unbeaten in its final seven league matches and was second in the Mission League behind champion Harvard-Westlake. With the Tologs shutting out three of their final opponents and the Hawks’ recent trouble scoring goals (scoreless in six of last matches), Coach Pace and the Tologs are my picks to move into the second round.
Winner: Flintridge Sacred Heart
JSerra vs. Villa Park: The Lions won their first two league matches, but went 1-5 the rest of the way and received an at-large bid from the Trinity League. Six of JSerra’s 10 league matches were decided by one goal, so the Lions are no strangers to close matches. The Spartans are riding high after a strong regular season resulted in a 10-1-1 record and their first league title since 1988. Hungry for playoff success after losing to Santa Margarita in the first round last season, Villa Park’s season will continue with a strong win over the Lions.
Winner: Villa Park
Mater Dei at Harvard-Westlake: The Monarchs rallied from an 0-3 start in Trinity League play to make the playoffs, winning three of their final five matches. Mater Dei struggled with scoring goals in the Trinity League, being shutout in five of their eight league matches. But they scored three times in their win over Rosary in the regular season finale. The Wolverines earned the No. 3 overall seed after winning the Mission League. They have won nine of 10 and have been one of the most impressive teams in the Division. The Wolverines are also undefeated against county teams this season, defeating Canyon, San Clemente, Aliso Niguel, and Villa Park during the Mater Dei Premier Invitational. Mater Dei will give them a competitive match, but the Wolverines are my pick to prevail in this one.
Mission Viejo at Redlands: The Diablos enter the playoffs looking to rebound from a tough final week of the regular season. Mission Viejo was tied for first place, but lost to San Clemente and Aliso Niguel at home. Those defeats caused them to fall to third place and go on the road. The Terriers were champions of the Citrus Belt League, posting a 9-0-1 mark. They allowed only four goals in those 10 matches and outscored their last three opponents by a combined score of 11-0. Redlands has not lost a home match this season. The Diablos would seem to have a daunting task ahead of them, but I feel that playing in the South Coast League has prepared them for tough road matches. And after two straight home losses, maybe a tough road match will inspire Mission Viejo. In a close match, look for the Diablos to grind out a win.
Winner: Mission Viejo
Huntington Beach at Esperanza: The Oilers finished third in the Sunset League this season, but faltered a bit down the stretch. Huntington Beach won only one of its’ final four matches, including one-goal defeats to Los Alamitos and Edison in the final week. Esperanza’s streak of Century League titles came to an end, but the Aztecs went unbeaten in their final nine league contests. Defense was the catalyst in those nine matches, as the Aztecs blanked their opponents in eight of those contests. Can the Oilers find a way to generate offense? They have the talent to do so, but I still look for Esperanza to pull out a home victory and move on to the second round.
Los Osos at Corona del Mar: After a successful 2011-2012 season that saw them go 25-1-3 and win the CIF-SS Division 2 title, the Grizzlies have struggled this season. They placed fourth in the Baseline League and had a losing league record. Turmoil has also hit the program, as long-time coach Mychal Armstrong was recently fired. Corona del Mar has found its rhythm again following several earlier season injuries. They have won their last four matches by a combined score of 14-2 and claimed their third straight Pacific Coast League title. Having watched the Grizzlies this season, they certainly have the talent to win this match. But with so much distraction hovering around Los Osos, and a rejuvenated Sea Kings playing some of its best soccer of the season, I look for Corona del Mar to get the win.
Winner: Corona del Mar
Chaminade at Los Alamitos: The Eagles were third this season in the Mission League behind Harvard-Westlake and Flintridge Sacred Heart. They enter the first round looking to reverse a recent run that has seen them win only two matches in their last seven. Los Alamitos is fresh off its first Sunset League title since 2008-09. The Griffins advanced to the Division 1 title match that season. Is that an omen for this year’s squad? Too early to tell, but I like the way the Griffins have played down the stretch. They held off a determined Edison squad with several key performances and that momentum will carry over with a win in the first round.
Winner: Los Alamitos
Canyon at Orange Lutheran: Perhaps the most equal match-up of the first round, as the Comanches and Lancers will tangle. Canyon was within striking distance of the Century League title heading into the final week, but consecutive losses to Villa Park and Foothill saw them fall to third. The Lancers were also in striking distance of the Trinity League title, but a tie to Mater Dei in their second to last game of the season ended those hopes. With standout sophomore Mia Hummel in net, Canyon’s offense will be the key in this match. The Comanches have been streaking with their goal scoring all season and will need to find a way to put the ball in the back of the net to give themselves a chance to win. Orange Lutheran has only been shutout once in their past 12 matches and features a number of goal scoring threats. I’ve gone back and forth in my mind over this match as I have written about it, but by the slimmest of margins, I will take the Lancers to pull out the win at home.
Winner: Orange Lutheran
Rancho Cucamonga at San Juan Hills: When the whistle blows to start this match, it will be a historic moment for the Stallions who will be making their first ever appearance in a playoff match. San Juan Hills finished second in the Sea View League and their only losses were to league champion Capistrano Valley. The Stallions will have to try to snap a five match winless streak that has seen them produce four ties. The Cougars were second to Upland in the Baseline League this season and have won six of eight overall. Senior Danielle Lopez has produced a strong season for Rancho Cucamonga, scoring 17 goals and recording 10 assists. I look for a strong home effort from the Stallions in their first ever CIF match, but will take the Cougars on the road for the win.
Winner: Rancho Cucamonga
University at Dana Hills: The Trojans and Dolphins will clash for the second straight season in the first round, as the Dolphins blanked University 3-0 last season. University was tied for first place in the Pacific Coast League heading into the final week of the regular season, but a loss and tie pushed them to third. University was also shutout in both of those matches. The Trojans also suffered a couple of key injuries in their final league match, which could affect them greatly if those girls are unable to be 100 percent. Dana Hills moved seamlessly back into the South Coast League and continued its league title run, winning one for the third straight season. The Dolphins have scored two or more goals in three of the last four matches The No. 2 overall seed got to within one match of its first CIF title match appearance since 1990 last season and I expect them to start this year’s quest with a victory.
Winner: Dana Hills