Steele Canyon High School’s boys and girls soccer programs made history by each advancing to this year’s San Diego Section championship games.
The Cougar boys team, seeded second, finished runner-up in the Division IV match by a tenuous 1-0 score to the top-seeded Olympian Eagles.
Steele Canyon’s girls team, seeded 10th, was attempting to ride a wave of upsets in the playoffs before finally being tamed by a 4-0 score in the Division I title game by the top-seeded Del Norte Nighthawks.
It was the first trip to the finals for the Cougars boys team, which had made it as far as the semifinals six years ago, while the school’s girls team was attempting to win its second CIF championship in four finals appearances.
“We had a lot of adversity by playing in a league that was so highly competitive,” fourth-year boys coach Justin Johnson said. “From there, we trusted each other as a team. We were playing with confidence over the last couple months, and things started to come together once we started playing Division IV teams.”
Steele Canyon finished fourth in the Grossmont Hills League standings with a 2-5-3 record, placing ahead of Grossmont (1-6-3, fifth) and Granite Hills (0-6-4, sixth).
The Cougars (4-7-4) were seeded at the opposite end of the playoff bracket from Olympian, this year’s South Bay League champion.
Steele Canyon drew 10th-seeded High Tech High San Diego (2-1 upset winners over seventh-seeded Kearny in the opening round) in its opening quarterfinal match. Following a 3-1 win over the Storm, the Cougars took on third-seeded San Ysidro, also nicknamed the Cougars, in the semifinals.
However, the semifinal matchup between Cougar sides resulted in a 1-1 standoff through regulation play and a 15-minute sudden-victory overtime period to necessitate the penalty kicks-from-the-mark (KFM) tiebreaker.
Steele Canyon junior goalkeeper Alex Shields earned celebrity status in the team’s eventual semifinal victory.
With time ticking down in injury time, Shields took a free kick near midfield, booming an arcing shot from 60 yards out that floated over the fingertips of the opposing goalkeeper.
The equalizing 1-1 goal came with just eight to 10 seconds remaining in regulation time, Johnson noted.
Following a scoreless overtime period, Shields continued his on-field heroics by stopping two spot kicks and scoring the game-winning PK himself.
Steele Canyon won the spot kick lottery 4-2 to advance to meet the Eagles, who had defeated their opening two playoff opponents by a combined score of 7-0.
While Shield’s cat-like reflexes were key for the boys of Steele in the final — he dove to block a penalty kick attempt by Olympian senior Isaac Robledo in the third minute of play — he was unable to duplicate any further magic against the high-flying Eagles.
Olympian controlled most of the action during the match; Shields was kept busy scooping up and deflecting shots.
The only goal in the Division IV boys final came in the 31st minute when Robledo managed to break through the Cougar defense. A defender quickly closed on him, however, as he approached the top of the 18-yard box. But Robledo managed to get off a shot before contact was made.
The ball bounded toward the net, then took a quirky hop past Shields, diving at the near post. The ball deflected across the goalmouth to the opposite side of the net before finally bulging twine.
Robledo said he thought the ball hit one of the raised letters in the football endzone before taking a fortuitous bounce for what proved to be the only goal of the match.
The Eagles (16-3-2) went on to place runner-up in the Southern California Division V regional championship game played on June 5.
The Cougar ladies (9-8-4) saw their streak of three consecutive upset playoff wins end in unkind fashion after Del Norte scored just 18 seconds into the Division I championship game.
The Lady Nighthawks, who eliminated fourth-seeded West Hills, 2-0, in the preceding semifinal round, added goals in the 43rd, 45th and 89th minutes to relegate Steele Canyon to a second-place finish in the divisional playoff field.
Steele Canyon had played the upset role after dealing seventh-seeded Mission Hills a 2-1 loss in the opening round on May 18 and recording a 2-1 upset win over second-seeded Mater Dei Catholic in the quarterfinals on May 21.
The Lady Cougars advanced to the division final after winning nail-biting semifinal contest against third-seeded Helix Charter in the KFM tiebreaker on May 25.
Entering the championship game, Cougar coach Charlie Cleaves noted defense wins championships and his team had certainly lived up to that motto in the clutch semifinal victory. He said his team weathered the Helix attack like giant redwoods “swaying in the wind but never falling.”
“Senior goalkeeper Kassandra Jaggard was brilliant and made four huge game-saving saves and the defense of seniors Paris Wilson and Kaelee Hubbard, junior Franziska Semik, sophomores Shelby Bradle and Chase Diffenbaugh and freshmen Makayla Sturkey, Maddie Moran and Dayanara Ibarra shut down the high-powered Highlander attack all night,” Cleaves noted.
Once the final whistle blew following a scoreless draw through overtime, the outcome of the PK lottery was were never in doubt, Cleaves said.
“Kassie immediately drilled her shot and then saved the first Helix shot giving Steele Canyon the lead and they never looked back,” Cleaves said.
Senior Courtney Miller drilled her shot and Helix (6-4-5) hit one that Jaggard guessed right but the ball slipped past her.
“Fran made it exciting by hitting the crossbar, but then Kassie saved another one,” Cleaves recounted. “Senior Frida Alvarez-Paez drilled her shot into the right side of the net and then Kass made final save for the 3-1 PK win.”