In the leadup to the Christopher High field hockey team’s Central Coast Section playoff semifinal match against Los Gatos High Wednesday, Cougars junior Katie Garrison couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“Everybody I was talking to were like, ‘Well, you’ve had a good season and I was like no we haven’t, this isn’t over,’” said Garrison, who scored the only goal of the game in the team’s 1-0 victory. “We came in as underdogs and no one expected us to win. So, this is a moment I’m never going to forget and I’m so proud of everybody on this team. This is our moment and we deserved this.”
Indeed, it was a historic win for Christopher (17-6-1), which will be making its first appearance in the CCS championship match in program history. The Cougars play Mitty (19-2-1), which was a 1-0 winner over Gilroy, for the title on Saturday at Valley Christian at 7pm.
Garrison’s goal came with 3 minutes, 8 seconds remaining, off a perfect short corner pass from Emma Davis. Known for her rocket shots, Garrison was at the left point at the top of the circle when she let it fly, and the ball was hit with such force it created a loud thumping sound as it hit the padding in the back of the cage.
“I’ve been working on my corner shots a lot in practice,” she said. “That one I just remember receiving it and thinking, ‘OK, I just got to hit it’ and it went in. I didn’t quite process it. My brain was like, ‘What just happened?’”
That’s because after an even first half, Los Gatos dominated the possession time in the third quarter and was having the better of the run of the play in the fourth until CHS got back in rhythm late. Garrison’s goal came off the second of back-to-back short corners, the team’s first short corners since midway through the first quarter.
The Wildcats had a sizable 11-4 advantage in short corners, but unlike CHS, they couldn’t finish. CHS goalie Dominique Flores had another superb game, and the Cougars’ short-corner defense was on point.
“I got to credit our defensive short corner unit,” Garrison said. “Caitlynn Holt, Kaitlyn Nguyen, Alexa Booth, they did a phenomenal job and locked it down. I’ve never seen their corner defense looking so good, and that was a huge part of why we won the game.”
Despite Los Gatos having more possession time, CHS displayed superior finishing ability and even had a goal taken away midway through the opening quarter. The Cougars overcame that and withstood the relentless Los Gatos pressure in the second half in making program history.
For the Cougars, the win was rewarding on a number of levels. One, they beat the team that knocked them out in the semifinals a year ago. Two, Los Gatos is the section’s all-time winningest program and the gold standard for field hockey.
“Last year obviously didn’t turn out the way we expected,” Garrison said. “We played a hell of a game and I was so proud of everybody that I remember thinking I wanted another shot at them, that I wanted this moment. It’s just crazy. They’ve been to CCS (title match), what, 18 times, and to be the team that takes them out is just an honor.”
Nguyen stood out in the fourth quarter as she won several contested balls against Los Gatos deep on the Cougars’ end of the field. Holt and Booth weren’t just solid defensively; they shined on offense as well. Both players had great scoring opportunities in the third quarter that came close to scoring.
Garrison was ecstatic for her teammates and coach, Dani Hemeon.
“We were all sad last year after losing and I’m like, ‘Coach, I’m going to make it up to you,’” Garrison said.
During its scintillating playoff run, CHS has taken out two opponents from the vaunted Santa Clara Valley Athletic League. To win their first-ever CCS title, the Cougars will have to take down a third SCVAL opponent in Mitty.
The teams played early in the season, with the Monarchs prevailing 1-0 on Sept. 7. Interestingly enough, Garrison’s best friend, Simarpreet Dhillon, plays for Mitty. The two were talking before their CCS semifinal games and Dhillon’s comments only stoked Garrison’s motivation to win.
Not that Garrison needed any more fuel, but it was provided by her best friend of all people.
“I was saying good luck and she said they were going to scout Los Gatos,” Garrison said. “I was like, ‘Uh, you’re going to scout us!’ We’re very competitive so I’m excited to see them in the finals.”
GHS falls in semis
Gilroy’s bid for history came to an end in a 1-0 loss to Mitty in the semifinals. The Mustangs entered the contest at 21-0-1 but couldn’t overcome an early goal in suffering their first and only loss of the season.
Mitty scored two minutes into the match and that stood up the rest of the way.
“Defensively, they were better than us,” GHS coach Adam Gemar said. “We didn’t have the same end of behind as we’ve been working on. That’s how we were beating teams. Any time we did get behind them, the ball was just too far out of our reach or we weren’t fast enough even though we’re a super fast team.”
The first three quarters involved suffocating, tremendous defense from both teams. They exchanged possession time before the game opened up in the fourth quarter. The Mustangs had their best run of play in a final quarter that included back-to-back short corners early in the period and a stretch of three consecutive short corners starting at the 57-minute mark.
However, GHS struggled with the advantage and was unable to unleash a shot that forced the Mitty goalie into making a save.
“I thought we were going to OT on those short corners (late),” Gemar said. “But we couldn’t even get a shot on. That was a good game. That first half hurt us because we didn’t quite get into it. The attitude when they scored early, usually we bounce back from it. This game, it was tough. It was, ‘Let’s go, let’s go,’ but it wasn’t until halftime where it was like, ‘OK, we can play.’”
Ashley Boehm, Liliana Lerma and Angelene Castro were the senior starters and while they’ll be sorely missed, GHS will return the majority of its roster next year and thus poised to have another solid run to the CCS championship game.
The returners include two sophomore starters and freshman sensation Kami Krejdovsky, who is emblematic of the team’s bright future. Gemar said in his near two-decades of coaching at GHS this was his best team ever.
“We’ve had superstars in the past but never a team like this,” he said. “They’re all good athletes, but together they were great. There were no soft spots. Every single player at the 11 positions plus the bench, everyone had starter capability. I’ll remember the friendliness, the family (type connections) and attitudes of the players. They were kind of goofy but they knew when to take the game seriously. Just a deep and super fun group I’ll always remember.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]