Port Of Los Angeles High girls soccer can finally call themselves... champion.
After four runner-up finishes in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016, the Polar Bears finally achieved what they toiled so long for when sophomore midfielder Gisselle Mora took advantage of a mishandled attempt at a clear-out by a Grant of Van Nuys defender. Mora would slightly tap in the golden goal with 2:04 left in sudden death overtime for a heart-stopping 2-1 victory in the CIF-Los Angeles City Section Division 2 final at Los Angeles Valley College.
"I am really proud of everyone," POLA junior midfielder Briana Mancilla said. "We gave our all even though we were fatigued. We could not have won without everyone fighting tooth and nail for this title."
Even so, there was seemingly little hope when Grant sophomore midfielder Paige Smith scored with two minutes left in regulation to give the Lancers a 1-0 lead after 78 tantalizing minutes of near misses by both teams.
"I definitely thought the game was over at that point," POLA senior midfielder Anna Vidovich said.
Well... it was Vidovich who took a long pass from senior midfielder Alejandra Gurrola, somehow brushed off a defender on the right side near the 18-yard box and lofted a perfect shot in the left corner of the net to knot up the score at 1-1, forcing overtime.
"Alejandra gave a great pass and that goal was the best feeling of my life," the Stevens Institute Of Technology-bound Vidovich said of the final seconds. "That's going to be a memory I’ll have forever."
Neither team could score during the first 20 minutes of extra play (two ten-minute overtime periods), so the Polar Bears (18-3 overall) and Lancers (19-1) had to go to two five-minute sudden death periods.
Grant nearly put an end to an already classic game in the opening minute of sudden death but Smith's shot just misfired to the right, giving POLA freshman goalie Katelyn Viducic, who made a career-high 13 saves, a reprieve. Grant also failed on a corner kick chance during their aggressive attack on the defensive back line of POLA, but they persevered.
“(The back line) was under so much pressure and I think we handled it amazingly,” POLA junior defender Christy Messner said.
POLA also had some chances late, but finally got their big break when Vidovich beat two defenders and fired a shot just behind off the right side of the goal. A Grant defender tried to kick it away, but the goalie charged the ball a little too much and it went right to Mora, who tapped it in for the win... and the ultimate redemption for herself, and the Polar Bears.
"I honestly was just hoping that I would score and make my team proud," said Mora, who painfully watched last year's Division 4 championship loss to Northridge Academy from the sidelines after suffering a concussion in the first round. "They're like my family and I wanted them to be proud of me."
Viducic expressed her gratitude towards Mora and her teammates.
"I am so thankful for Gisselle," Viducic said. "Without her and Anna, we wouldn't have won the game. I see a great soccer future for Gisselle. I want to thank my team for never giving up, playing their hearts out and everyone having a positive attitude."
In the first half alone, POLA had several opportunities against Grant, but Mancilla, Vidovich and sophomore defender Kendall Dimson were not able to finish them. Junior midfielder Britney Delgado and freshman midfielder Keely Bales had potential breakaways snuffed out by the Lancers' defense. In the second half, Delgado set up a perfect chance for Bales, but her header was wide left of the goal.
Also in the second half, Messner narrowly misfired on two 30-yard free kicks before Smith finally broke free for Grant's only goal of the night.
Still, the Polar Bears stayed the course, didn't panic, and eventually sent the Valley College crowd – and their own bench - into a frenzy with Vidovich's 25th goal of the season (1 behind Mancilla’s team-leading 26 goals).
"Anna worked so hard this season and definitely deserved that goal," Viducic said. "I wish her the best of luck in college."
POLA out-shot Grant, 15-9 in regulation, controlling the field possession for 45 of the 80 minutes, but the 108th minute of action when Mora scored, ended all those torturous years of heartbreak, especially for the seniors of the team in Vidovich, Gurrola, defender Alyssa Medrano, midfielder Lizeth Chavez and midfielder Florizel Torres.
"It's the most amazing feeling in the world," Vidovich said of the joy of finally being called champion. "We've been so close for all four years and it's so great to finally win it all."
The Polar Bears defeated Marshall, Van Nuys and San Fernando before finally claiming the program's first championship, and the San Pedro-based charter school's seventh sports crown, joining softball (2011, 2012, 2013), girls cross-country (2012, 2013) and baseball (2014).