The first five years of existence always ended in elimination at the feet of Los Angeles CES in the CIF-Los Angeles City Section playoffs, whether it be in the semifinals (2011 and 2014), or the championship game itself (Division 3 in 2012 and 2013, Division 4 with a 2-1 overtime loss in 2015).
2016 was supposed to be the Polar Bears’ year, with the Unicorns going up a division higher to make POLA the instant favorite in Division 4, and they got to the finals as expected. Yet, another step in the maturing process came in the form of a penalty kick shootout defeat to Northridge Academy which once again delayed their destiny.
POLA’s breakthrough finally came in 2017, as they were moved up from Division 4 to 2 due to competitive equity.
With tougher postseason competition, the Polar Bears somehow came out of it with their first CIF-LACS championship, a 2-1 sudden death overtime win over previously undefeated Grant of Van Nuys at Los Angeles Valley College, making March 3, 2017 the day POLA girls soccer finally reached the summit of greatness.
“Our run last year was very impactful for the team and our school,” POLA junior defender Kendall Dimson said. “Our hard work and dedication was finally rewarded.”
The maturation however, never stops.
As the 2017-2018 season continues, POLA, currently 7-4-2 overall, now steps up a higher level as they are in Division 1. That means the Polar Bears deal with the likes of defending champion Granada Hills and other Valley powers like 15-time City champion El Camino Real, Taft, Cleveland, Western League rivals Palisades and Hamilton, not to mention South East, Grant, rising Sotomayor and even twelve-time defending Marine League champion San Pedro.
“Moving to Division 1 for the playoffs was a good decision,” says junior midfielder Gisselle Mora, the hero of last year’s Division 2 title game as her golden goal with two minutes left in sudden death against Grant gave POLA that elusive first crown. “It gives us a chance to show what we are made of.”
Everyone in the Crosstown League is pretty much aware of that fact.
Since 2011, POLA is 79-2-4 in Crosstown League play, including a 6-1-1 start to this current season, winning the league outright all seven years, previously unbeaten in 75 consecutive league games since suffering a 1-0 loss to Foshay Learning Center on February 11, 2011. The majority of those 76 wins have been lopsided, and in some cases the Polar Bears even hit double digits.
Last year’s 13-0 league run was the most dominant, as POLA outscored their victims 111-5.
Second-year school New West Charter has provided the real threat thus far with a 2-2 tie on November 29, then put the Polar Bears' league title hopes on the brink of ending with a 5-4 upset win on January 19 with a last-minute goal, lightly diminishing the achievement of Mancilla scoring her 100th goal in the same game.
“We don’t let all the (league) wins get to us,” says three-time All-City selection senior midfielder Briana Mancilla, who has had the greatest prep career of all San Pedro Prep Girls Soccer, with 102 goals and 72 assists in three plus years, both POLA school career records. “Because we all know what truly matters, and that’s how we compete in the playoffs.”
Mancilla, Mora, senior midfielder Britney Delgado, sophomore forward Keely Bales and sophomore midfielder Natalia Iniguez form an intimidating tandem, as they all scored 76 of POLA’s 125 goals last season, while Dimson, junior Amber Lopez and senior Christy Messner, last year’s Crosstown League MVP, are a great defensive back row which has to be solid once again to protect freshman goalie Kiana Nelson.
Lopez is one of the more versatile players for POLA as she is also another midfielder.
“A critical part of being both a defender and midfielder would be organizing the back and front lines, but in both positions, I’m able to see the entire field,” Lopez says.
During last year’s historic run to the title, Delgado played a massive role in scoring three goals, one each in the first three rounds against Marshall, Van Nuys and San Fernando.
“We worked hard to be the best,” said Delgado, who produced a hat trick against rival Harbor Teacher Prep on December 6. “It’s the only other way I could give back to my teammates after all the greatness we achieved together.”
Bales provides speed on the sidelines as a forward, taking up from where Anna Vidovich (25 goals, 24 assists in 2016-2017), now at Stevens Institute Of Technology in New Jersey, left off.
“I’m able to be a playmaker and finish opportunities that my teammates set me up with,” said Bales, who had 16 goals last year. “I hope to continue making more opportunities in hopes of getting back to back rings.”
Freshman midfielder/defender Sophia Alvarez and junior forward Berneise Casillas, a Mary Star transfer, are other key players for POLA and fifth-year coach Javier Torres, who’s closing in on 100 career victories, currently at 99 after Wednesday's 14-0 rout of host Animo South Los Angeles at Locke High. In that game, Delgado set a school in-game record with an astonishing seven goals, assisting on four more.