APTOS — Against the wishes of her coaches, Monte Vista Christian senior striker Kailey Morrell did some pregame internet research on Nueva, the Mustangs’ opponent in the quarterfinals of the Central Coast Section Division IV playoffs, in the days leading up to Saturday afternoon’s match.
She found no individual stats, but she did find plenty of goals — 91 to be exact.
“They beat every team 15-0, 9-0, 7-0,” Morrell said. “I was like, ‘oh my goodness.’ I didn’t tell anyone on the team, but I knew we were going to have a big challenge on our hands.”
But the top-seeded Mustangs handled it with their trademark poise, and focus.
After allowing an early score in the first half, M.V.C. exploded for three goals over nine minutes to hold off an upstart No. 8 Nueva squad for a 3-1 win, the program’s first playoff victory since the 2007-08 season.
“Nerves got us a little in the first half,” said M.V.C. coach Morgan Miller. “I think they understood the weight of this game. If we win, we move on. If we lose, we’re done. We got scored on, and I think that brought our focus in.”
The Mustangs (13-2-4), unbeaten champions of the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Cypress division, gave up a goal on a free kick in the 20th minute, and trailed until sophomore midfielder Shayna Lebovitz’s goal in the 37th.
Her score sparked a dominant stretch of soccer that bled deep into the second half. Freshman midfielder Jana Komposch put the go-ahead goal into the back of the net with a beautiful lefty strike in the 43rd, and Morrell converted a perfect cross from Lebovitz for the third score three minutes later.
“It takes us a while to get the first goal, but we have a flow after that,” Morrell said. “The first goal definitely started [up] our adrenaline.”
Miller was hoping her team saved some of that adrenaline for the semifinal round.
M.V.C. will continue its postseason run on Wednesday against the winner of No. 4 Gunderson and No. 5 Priory. The time and location of the match are still to be determined.
The Mustangs, who before this winter had not made the playoffs since the 2014-15 season, have never advanced to a CCS final.
“Moving on to the next round is super exciting and encouraging for them,” Miller said. “They want it. They want it all.”
Saturday was the first time Nueva (12-2-1) was held to one goal since its 4-1 season-opening loss to Castilleja — their lone loss of the regular season.
The Mavericks, undefeated champions of the Private Schools Athletic League’s North division, averaged 6 1/2 goals per game, and their offense proved explosive during the early moments of Saturday’s match.
Sophomore forward Gaelen Clayton and senior winger Sophia Yang produced a pair of scoring opportunities in the first 10 minutes by twisting the Mustangs’ backline into a pretzel with a pretty give-and-go game.
M.V.C.’s defense, led by junior Sophia Bessa, made the proper adjustments and cut off their looks through the middle of the field, but a foul set up the Mavericks’ goal. Senior defender Sanam Yusuf looped a 30-yard free kick from the left side of the net to the top right corner, clearing the leaping reach of M.V.C. keeper Polina Oglesby.
That was the last time Nueva threatened to score. M.V.C. outshot the Mavericks 6-1 over the final 60 minutes. The Mustangs also had six corner kicks before the final whistle blew.
“For me, it looked liked there was no weaknesses,” Nueva coach Daniel Zerabruk said of M.V.C.. “It looked like every player they sent out were all very good functional players that had a good understanding of the game…They have a couple of key players, as well, that really give them a good chance of going all the way.”
Nueva had hopes of going all the way, too, but the Mavericks were more than satisfied with what was a stellar first full varsity season. Last winter, they played only four games in what was the equivalent of a test balloon, gauging the interest for soccer at the small private school in San Mateo.
They stunned almost everyone with their success this season.
"They're unbelievable students of the game," Zerabruk said. "They wanted to learn and they wanted to improve. We worked hard on the training ground, and we had some great leaders who helped the team as well."
M.V.C., too, has improved plenty from last season — much to the delight of Stephanie Rebottaro and Morrell, who have been on varsity since their freshman season.
"The first day, I remember us saying, 'we can do this, we've got four years to do this,'" Morrell said.