The Christopher High field hockey team looks to be peaking at the perfect time—in the Central Coast Section playoffs.
Two days after a nail-biting win over Valley Christian in the opening round, the Cougars were dominant in a 5-1 victory over Hollister High on Wednesday. Christopher (15-6) plays Los Altos (10-5-2) in the quarterfinals Saturday at Del Mar High at 11am.
“Hopefully, we can just keep on climbing,” Cougars coach Dani Hemeon said. “We put together a great third and fourth quarter (against Hollister) and I’m hoping we can just keep on riding it all the way to Saturday and then who knows, maybe next week.”
Los Altos was the fourth-place finisher out of the vaunted Santa Clara Valley Athletic League, which for field hockey combines the top teams from the SCVAL along with the best schools from the West Catholic League such as St. Francis, Mitty and St. Ignatius.
The league is so highly regarded that the top six seeds in the CCS bracket are determined by the order of finish among the top six SCVAL teams in their league standings. Teams such as Christopher—which advanced to the CCS semifinals last year before losing to eventual champion Los Gatos in a back-and-forth contest—would love nothing more to break up the SCVAL’s dominance in the sport.
And Gilroy (20-0-1), which was a 6-0 winner over Carmel Wednesday and is the only team in the section without a loss this season, gets an opportunity to do just that as it plays perennial power St. Francis (17-2-1) in the quarterfinals on Saturday at Del Mar (look for the full report/game story on gilroydispatch.com).
Meanwhile, Christopher is starting to resemble the team that Hemeon had envisioned before the season started. Led by stalwarts Carlie Silva, Katie Garrison and Caitlynn Holt—who scored two goals and had two assists in the win over Hollister—the Cougars are playing at a higher level than they have all season.
Silva has been a game-changer again this year with her ability to control the ball and deliver crisp passes that land on the stick of her teammates.
“Carlie has been moving the ball really well for us and has held it down in the center,” Hemeon said. “She’s been playing so great and I’m very proud of how she stepped up because we’ve moved her around. She was a forward, and then we lost Ella (Miura) a little bit to an injury so we had to pull Carlie back to the midfield, and she just shined there.”
Holt was the player of the game, scoring or assisting on three of the team’s four fourth-quarter goals. It was an outburst that seemed inevitable, as the Cougars had a dominant time of possession advantage and finished with 10 short corners to Hollister’s two.
Holt, who had a breakout track and field season last spring in the 300-meter hurdles in advancing to the CCS Semifinals, has utilized her speed and explosiveness to devastate the opposition throughout the season.
But it’s Holt’s game awareness, work ethic and focus that have been equally important to her success.
“Caitlynn is a natural athlete but with that natural ability she works so hard,” Hemeon said. “On the field, she’s by far one of the fastest athletes out there and she can just run past defenders.
“But what I’m most proud of her for this season is her decision making has improved tremendously. She knows when to try to beat a player, when to stop and drop it back, when to go here, when to go there. So, she’s done an awesome job, especially these past three weeks she’s really stepped it up.”
Speaking of stepping it up, that’s exactly what Cloey Turiello has done since returning from injury last month. She scored the critical second goal that broke a 1-1 tie and ignited a game-ending 4-0 run. Hemeon wasn’t sure if Turiello would be able to play this season after sustaining a serious knee injury last year during the soccer season.
“I’m so glad Cloey has been able to play games this season,” Hemeon said. “We were worried she wouldn’t have her senior season and she’s definitely making the most of it. I can’t say enough about Cloey. She’s just so crafty in the circle and makes so much happen.”
Garrison scored the team’s fourth goal and is always a difference-maker in her ability to make strong runs down the flanks or the middle of the field, and her ability to win and possess balls. Garrison had perhaps the most impressive goal of the match, unleashing a rocket shot from the top of the circle to score with 8:06 left.
Sophie Gonzalez, Kaitlyn Nguyen, Laurel Lopez and Miura were all active and played pivotal roles in the victory. Gonzalez scored the Cougars’ third goal which came off their third consecutive short corner in rapid-fire fashion.
Another underrated player, goalie Dominique Flores, had another solid performance. Hollister didn’t put many shots on goal, but the ones they did have were excellent scoring chances. With the exception of one shot, Flores stopped them all.
“Dominique is brand new this year and has been working really hard since June,” Hemeon said. “She’s really grown throughout the course of this season, and it’s fun to watch her finally figuring it out and understanding the game because field hockey is such a different game. She’s been doing really well, and luckily she’s only a junior so we’re excited to see what next year has in store for her.”
Danica Lopez has also made an impact this season, none greater than her game-winning goal with eight seconds left in the win over Valley Christian. That game had all the makings of overtime until Lopez’s goal.
“That was very stressful and the girls weren’t satisfied after that win,” Hemeon said. “It took us four quarters to get there (against Hollister), but it was good to see us finally moving the ball like I know we can and to end with a statement win. This was what I’ve been waiting for.”
Hemeon knows Los Altos will be a formidable opponent, but she senses something great is happening with her team currently.
“I don’t know, I’ve got a good feeling about these guys and where we’re at right now,” she said. “I’m excited to see what Saturday has in store for us.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]