For the third time in four years, the Christopher High girls soccer team has advanced to a Central Coast Section playoff championship match.
The Cougars made it happen after a riveting 2-1 overtime win over Menlo School in a Division II semifinal Wednesday. The No. 3 seed Cougars (11-5-1), who won their first-ever CCS title last year, will play at top seed Piedmont Hills (19-2-1) on Saturday at 7pm for a chance to go back to back.
Since the 2018-2019 season—the freshmen year for the seniors on this year’s Christopher team—only Mitty and Menlo School along with CHS have the distinction of making three section championship games.
“It’s remarkable to be at a time where Christopher girls soccer has been the best it’s ever been and to be a part of that is so amazing,” senior striker Jenna Urrabazo said.
It was Urrabazo’s header in the opening minute of the mandatory second 10-minute overtime period that accounted for the game winner. Freshman sensation Ella Oetinger delivered the assist on a beautifully placed corner kick, a high-arcing kick that came straight down in front of the Menlo goal.
Oetinger takes most if not all the set pieces for the team, and near the end of regulation, one of her corner kicks went off the mark. This time, when it counted the most, she placed a perfect ball into the penalty area. Moments before the kick, Cougars coach Matt Oetinger, Ella’s dad, was heard shouting from the sidelines, “Tell Ella to calm down, tell Ella to calm down.”
She did, Urrabazo scored and the Knights didn’t threaten the rest of the way. Ironically, Urrabazo said she doesn’t usually score in the manner in which she did.
“I normally don’t go up for headers on corner kicks,” she said. “Right place at the right time. I just got there and with a sub goalie, it just went in.”
This is right up there—if not at the very top—of the Cougars’ grittiest win since their run of success started five years ago. The Knights looked as if they were going to march to the final until Kaiya Stewart scored in the 77th minute, utilizing all of her immense talent and work rate.
Ashlyn Platt was the catalyst on the play, winning a ball on the left sideline just inside midfield before threading a perfect pass that hit Stewart in-stride. With a defender latched on her, Stewart simply willed herself and shedded the Menlo player which got her in a one-on-one situation with Menlo’s backup goalkeeper.
Stewart didn’t miss and it was a new ballgame.
Menlo actually got the better of the run of play in the first of the mandatory two 10-minute overtime periods, but it didn’t score and the Cougars did in the second OT period. Stewart is a threat to score every time she touches the ball, especially if she has some space to work with. She continually worked to get open, win 50-50 balls and create scoring chances for her and her teammates.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this team and their work ethic and their belief to never stop,” Matt Oetinger said. “This team digs in and you see the results coming out of it. I feel great about it. We clearly would’ve liked to score more, and clearly would’ve liked parts of it to be prettier, but I’m super happy with the way this team won. Nothing has ever been easy for this team. I mean, there were all kinds of things going wrong for us, but this team just finds a way to grind it out man.”
Indeed, from not having its full complement of players until the league season started on Jan. 12 to losing standout midfielder/forward Aesha Sandoval in the penultimate game of the league season, Christopher’s run of success looked as if it was coming to an end after it started the season 0-4-1.
The additions of Stewart and Urrabazo for the start of the Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division season got the team well in a hurry, and it promptly went 9-1 to win the league title. For Urrabazo, however, the adversity continued. She suffered a quadriceps injury upon returning for league play, which limited her appearances and as such she only scored two goals during the regular-season.
Well, Urrabazo has already scored more goals in two postseason games than she did all of the league season as she had both tallies in the Cougars’ 2-0 win over Menlo-Atherton in the quarterfinals.
“I just got back a couple of weeks ago and it feels so good to be on the field with my teammates my senior year,” said Urrabazo, who sported a nice shiner on her forehead after butting heads with a teammate during the game. “These girls are amazing and as we’re getting back in shape, it feels really good finding our rhythm.”
CHS couldn’t have gotten off to a better start, dominating the possession in the opening minutes. Just moments after the opening kickoff, the Cougars got the ball in the 18-yard box. Stewart pivoted and got the sliver of daylight she needed to unleash a shot that was blocked by the Menlo goalkeeper.
Carlie Silva came crashing in for the rebound and nearly scored. However, for the next 20 minutes, the tide turned and Menlo had the superior time of possession with the Cougars chasing in pursuit. CHS was having a hard time linking passes and controlling the ball, and the Knights were also physical in winning a lot of the 50-50 balls.
CHS received a break when Menlo had a clean breakaway opportunity in the 10th minute only to miss wide left. The Knights also had a couple of other great scoring chances, but the only time they could get one in the net came in the 47th minute.
The Cougars made them pay for not finishing more often. Even though Stewart and Urrabazo make things happen up top, CHS has quality players at nearly every position to set the dynamic scoring duo up for scoring opportunities.
Taylor Mejia and Skyler Turiello were active and making plays throughout, Oetinger broke up several Menlo passes as it was trying to advance toward the attacking third, and a host of underrated players like Jessica Schween, Emma Davis, Rainelynn Antipuesto and Platt—just to name a few—gave the team a lift at different times in the game. Cougars goalkeeper Ella Donohue also made a couple of key saves late, including a terrific stop off a hard Menlo free kick in regulation stoppage time.
In addition to the grit the team showed, Matt Oetinger was particularly proud of the players’ unselfishness.
Silva started at right wing but was switched to right back because of Menlo’s speed on the wings. When Mejia had to go off for a few minutes due to a yellow card late in regulation, Silva switched positions again, this time to center mid.
“Carlie doesn’t play right back or center mid, but that’s the makeup of this team of no ego and they’re all buying in,” Oetinger siad. “I can’t ask for anything more than that. Every single one of them just sacrificed for the team.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]