H.-W. runs into Granite.
GIRLS' SOCCER: Wolverines fall
at home in Div. II regional semifinal.
When Alex Venegas scored less than four minutes into Thursday's Southern California Div. II regional semifinals, the Harvard-Westlake of Studio City girls' soccer team likely thought it was going to be another easy victory in a string of convincing performances the past month.
It turned out to be anything but for the Wolverines.
Granite Hills of Apple Valley goalkeeper Katy Nearhoff stopped several breakaway opportunities, and Harvard- Westlake misfired on numerous point-blank chances inside the penalty area and let the visiting Cougars hang around long enough to score in the waning moments of each half.
As a result, Harvard-Westlake's dream of repeating as regional champion and completing the triple crown of winning Mission League, Southern Section Div. II and regional titles ended in nightmarish fashion following a 2-1 setback, the Wolverines' first home loss this season.
Kristine Pasek corralled a long throw-in from Rayana Speight in the 79th minute and placed a shot inside the left post for her 41st goal, leaving Harvard-Westlake (22-2-3) to scramble at the end, only to hear the final whistle bring an end to the careers of the Wolverines' seniors.
"You could see anxiety start to set in and the nerves were present early in the second half," Harvard-Westlake coach Richard Simms said. "It's that feeling of 'Is this it?' Elimination games can do that to you. We had been playing really well (in elimination games), but we didn't play well today."
After Venegas drilled a 22-yard shot off a pass from Donilyn Hunter-Sallustio in the right corner, Harvard-Westlake had scored first for the seventh consecutive postseason match.
But Nearhoff denied Katie Speidel on three one-on-one chances in the first half, allowing Granite Hills (25-4-1) to tie the score in the 39th minute, when Kierstyn Cruz finally gained control off another long throw-in and headed the ball inside the left post.
"I watched probably 60 minutes of video on them on YouTube and the one area I thought they'd be vulnerable to was our long throw-ins," Granite Hills coach Mike Bradbury said. "We're not going to outpossess this team, that's not going to happen. But we felt like with our core training and our fitness, we could outhustle them because we weren't going to overpower them."
Danielle Duhl nearly gave the Wolverines, ranked sixth in the state and No. 12 nationally by ESPN/Rise Magazine, the lead in the 49th minute when she played a ball into the penalty area, which Nearhoff attempted to clear.
Nearhoff's kick ricocheted off Duhl over the goalkeeper's head and rolled toward the net before missing wide left.
"Certainly our game plan was team defense because they've got some big-time star power over there," Bradbury said. "But we weathered the storm. Holding them to one goal and scoring two is nothing less than a miracle."