At the 2012 CIF-Los Angeles City Section Small Schools Division girls soccer championship game post-game awards ceremony... Los Angeles CES head coach David London acknowledged the hard-fought effort of Port Of Los Angeles while the dejected Polar Bears were in many ways contemplating a potential rematch after the Unicorns' 2-1 victory.
Well, 364 days later... these two powers will once again collide with the championship on the line.
The Unicorns and Polar Bears will get it on yet again Saturday, 10am at Miguel Contreras High School in Downtown Los Angeles.
Top-seeded LACES (18-2-3 overall) has been stellar all season as they are after their third City Section girls soccer title in four years and is looking for a repeat, while the third-seeded Polar Bears (18-5-1) have had their eyes focused on the task at hand in finally trying to dethrone the one school that has had their number ever since they started a girls soccer program. The Unicorns have eliminated POLA in each of the first two seasons.
In 2011, the Unicorns defeated POLA, 4-1 in the Small Schools semifinals before losing in the championship game to Northridge Academy before coming back to win the championship last season.
Current sophomore forward Emma Katz scored late in the first half to put LACES up 1-0 before halftime, then POLA's current senior midfielder Alyssa Bristol tied it three minutes into the second half with a goal of her own. Lily Brodey would then score in the 53rd minute to provide the winning goal for the Unicorns, who had to withstand a near miss by Bristol with two minutes left that would have sent the game into overtime.
Katz is LACES' top goal scorer this season, and the Unicorns are also paced by sophomore midfielder Aunika Ortiz, sophomore forward Raleigh Barnes, senior sweeper Martha Ramos, senior forward Hannah Goldberg, junior midfielder Rachel Odom and sophomore striker Jackie Schaeffer.
Senior goalie Olivia London is a fiery leader with 32 saves this season, saving 7 shots in last year's finals.
LACES, who shared the Western League championship with Palisades, carries an 18-game unbeaten streak (16-0-2) into this title tilt and hasn't lost since falling 1-0 to Northridge Academy back on December 15 at the Sylmar Tournament. The Unicorns own victories over big schools such as Palisades, Narbonne of Harbor City and North Hollywood, advancing to the finals with wins over Camino Nuevo, Foshay Learning Center and Annenberg.
POLA meanwhile has not lost since a 1-0 defeat to South East of South Gate on January 5 at the San Pedro Pirate Cup Tournament and has built up their own 12-game winning streak heading into this highly anticipated rematch. First-year coach Javier Torres boasts a team that has scored 94 goals, and has only allowed 11 this season, storming into the finals with dominant wins over USC-Mast, Bernstein of Hollywood and Fulton College Prep.
Senior forward Nikki Bonilla, senior midfielder Alyssa Bristol, junior midfielder Samantha Foxworthy, sophomore forward Melissa Rodriguez, sophomore midfielder Ariella Martinez, sophomore sweeper Isabela Van Antwerp and the recent catalyst to the Polar Bears' playoff march... sophomore midfielder Tiffany Torres, has led the drive to what POLA has been working for all season long, one more chance at LACES.
Torres has a team-leading five goals in the playoffs.
POLA's strong defense is paced by the likes of Van Antwerp, sophomore midfielder Samantha Walker, senior defender Alena Higgins, junior D/MF Belisaria Sidener-Mercado and the senior defender tandem of Marisa Reyes and Stephanie Torres. Torres has the luxury most big schools don't have... a two-goalie tag team of junior Nicole Sierra, who had four saves against LACES last year in the finals, and freshman Daisy Garcia, who has been nothing short of impressive since the Pirate Cup Tournament.
LACES has played more big schools than POLA, but the Polar Bears have yet to be extremely tested thus far in the playoffs. All of that means nothing come Saturday.
It's the repeat dreams of the Unicorns vs. the road to redemption of the Polar Bears.
Who really wants wants it more? That's what it all comes down to when it's all said and done.