For the third consecutive season, and the fifth time in six years, Port Of Los Angeles High girls soccer is going back to a CIF-Los Angeles City Section championship game.
In what has been undoubtedly their toughest road to get to a final in their seven-year history, the second-seeded Polar Bears defeated sixth-seeded San Fernando, 3-1 in the Division 2 semifinals Tuesday at the Toyota Soccer Complex in Torrance to earn another shot at that elusive first CIF crown. It goes without saying the Polar Bears are 0-4 in championship games, but they are driven and determined to make this one count.
Only top-seeded and undefeated Grant of Van Nuys, a 2-1 winner over Garfield of Los Angeles in the other semifinal, stands in POLA's way. The Polar Bears and Lancers will clash for the championship on Friday, 5 pm at Los Angeles Valley College.
Eight of the eleven starters for POLA (17-3 overall) will be playing in their second or third championship game, including the semifinal hero, Stevens Institute Of Technology-bound senior forward Anna Vidovich.
"I'm excited for this championship game because this is the best team I have been on at POLA and we have a lot of potential," Vidovich said. "We play like a team and that's why we are so successful. We are all working hard for that ring."
It only took the ninth minute of the game for Vidovich to assert herself against the Tigers (13-6-4).
Taking a pass just crossing midfield from junior midfielder Briana Mancilla, Vidovich would beat her defender down the right side before blasting one in for the goal, and a 1-0 POLA lead. In the 23rd minute, Vidovich was the facilitator in assisting junior midfielder Britney Delgado for her third goal of the playoffs, and a 2-0 edge.
Mancilla didn't waste any words on what the mindset was for POLA in the first half.
"Everyone who plays in an attacking position is determined to do anything tehy can to get the ball in the back of the net," said Mancilla, who leads POLA with 26 goals this season. "On Anna's goal I didn't hesitate to pass her the ball, she had the perfect angle to score."
San Fernando would score off a 25-yard free kick from sophomore midfielder Cristina Aranda in the 33rd minute but almost immediately after, Vidovich would again beat her defender down that same right side to score once more.
"Anna did such a great job of taking the ball up and beating her defender," POLA junior defender Christy Messner said. "She used her speed and got a lot of crosses and shots as a result. Both her goals were beautiful."
Vidovich expressed how crucial it was for POLA to get back on the scoreboard as soon as possible after Aranda's goal put the Tigers back within striking distance at such a tense moment in the contest.
"It was very crucial to score so fast after San Fernando's goal because it completely stopped any momentum or confidence they picked up afterwards," Vidovich said. "It also gave us cushion and allowed us to stay calm and play the way we know how."
Mancilla, Delgado and freshman midfielder Keely Bales all created chances for POLA in the second half, but couldn't convert. However, the defense of Messner, senior defender Alyssa Medrano and the sophomore duo of Kendall Dimson and Amber Lopez, combined with senior midfielder Alejandra Gurrola were determined and stout all day long.
Freshman goalie Katelyn Viducic made four saves for POLA, including on a 72nd minute free kick from San Fernando junior forward Sabrina Araiza.
"The whole back line did a really good job at holding San Fernando back," Messner said. "We all worked hard and together to put as much pressure on them as possible. We accomplished what we set out to do today."
Can the Polar Bears achieve the one thing that has eluded them after last year's Division 4 title loss via the dreaded penalty kick shootout to Northridge Academy, and three prior losses in 2012, 2013 and 2015 in Divisions 3 or 4 to Los Angeles CES? After three grueling victories over Marshall of Los Angeles, Van Nuys and San Fernando, one thing is for sure.
POLA is going to do their darndest to try and is grateful for the opportunity to do so.
"I feel that we have a really strong lineup this year," Messner said. "Not being able to play my freshman year in the finals (missing all of 2014-2015 due to injury) only motivates me to come out stronger and play harder in this one."