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By Zach Cavanagh
DOWNEY – JSerra girls soccer completed its historic hat trick and capped off the high school career of one of the greatest players the county, section, state and country has ever seen at this level.
The Lions sat back and capitalized on two set pieces, and United States U20 National Team forward Isabella D’Aquila scored with 11 seconds remaining, the final goal of her stellar high school career, to put an exclamation point on a win over Los Alamitos, 3-0, and capture JSerra’s third consecutive CIF-SS Division 1 championship on Saturday at Warren High School.
“The heart and soul they put into this game,” D’Aquila said of her teammates, “it’s ridiculous. Being able to play with them for four years, two years, three years, all of the girls put in all of their effort into this team to win three for our school and each other. I believe we were playing for each other tonight, which was really amazing.”
Jennifer Alvarado converted a long throw from Rachel Bastone in the 19th minute, and Bella Beltran headed in a corner kick from Samantha Williams in the 38th minute to make JSerra (19-0-3) only the 11th school to win three consecutive CIF-SS girls soccer titles. The titles are the first three in program history.
“It’s pretty awesome,” JSerra coach Greg Baker said. “I feel really proud for our seniors, especially Izzy capping off with the goal. You can see how much it meant for her to win. It always feels good, but I can’t imagine that this time next year that they won’t want a fourth.”
JSerra, ranked No. 2 nationally by USA Today, has maintained a high level of consistency over the last three seasons. The Lions only allowed seven goals each of the last two seasons with 16 shutouts this season. Baker says he didn’t have to push much, if at all, to keep his winning group moving forward.
38’ GOAL – JSerra doubles up. Samantha Willams corner from the left is headed in by Isabella Beltran and the Lions take a 2-0 lead over Los Alamitos. CIF-SS D1 Championship. @JSerraAthletics @CapoDispatch pic.twitter.com/K4syaAZ1J8
— SouthOCsports (@SouthOCsports) February 24, 2019
“You don’t know until you coach champions,” Baker said. “They’re the easiest players to motivate. They always want to win. Motivation isn’t difficult with this group because they win. The reason they win is because they’re always pushing the envelope. They’re setting the bar as players go. I didn’t have to do anything personally except keep them entertained most of the time, keep them organized when it was time, and then maybe a little bit come game day.”
Saturday marked the final time D’Aquila would suit up for JSerra. D’Aquila joins the US U20 National Team next week and will not play in the CIF SoCal Regionals. The senior had solid looks at the net all night, including a cross bar, before she finally received a long ball behind the defense from Samantha Williams and converted her one-on-one chance with 11 seconds remaining.
The goal, D’Aquila’s 33rd of the season and 134th of her career, sent her to the turf and tears streaming down her face as teammates raced to pile on and celebrate.
JSerra’s Isabella D’Aquila talks about her goal to clinch the Lions’ 3rd straight CIF-SS Division 1 Championship and cap her career. D’Aquila will join the US U20 National Team and miss the CIF SoCal Regionals. @JSerraAthletics @CapoDispatch pic.twitter.com/GFYPeWbs2P
— SouthOCsports (@SouthOCsports) February 24, 2019
“It was amazing to put one away,” D’Aquila said. “The tears on my face explain it all. It was awesome. Just the best way to finish it off was to win and to score. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
D’Aquila is a two-time county goal-scoring leader, three-time Trinity League offensive MVP, 2018-19 Trinity League MVP, two-time Trinity League champion, two-time CIF-SS Division 1 champion, two-time CIF-SS Division 1 player of the year, United States U17 World Cup roster member, 2019 United States U20 roster member and 2017-18 Gatorade state and national player of the year.
“It was just an amazing four years,” D’Aquila said. “I wouldn’t have changed anything or done anything differently. It changed me as a person and as a player to be at that school and to be coached by the coaches I was and play with the girls I played with. If I wouldn’t have had these girls around me and these coaches, we wouldn’t have been as successful and I wouldn’t have been as successful.”
JSerra opened the Final by allowing Los Alamitos (26-1-4), ranked No. 3 nationally by USA Today, to play its patented possession game, while the Lions sat back looking for the counter attack.
“All of us come up with game plans, and you hope yours is the right one,” Baker said. “Ours was. You want to dictate play. Even though it doesn’t look we are dictating play because we don’t have the ball, that’s exactly what we wanted to do. We just didn’t hit our spots when we stole. We stole exactly where we wanted to steal, but we just didn’t hit our counter attack.”
While JSerra didn’t convert in the flow of play until D’Aquila’s tally, JSerra was masterful on the defensive end to deny Los Alamitos very few truly dangerous chances.
Kendyll Fritts, Jordyn Gather, Olivia Fetzer and Kennedy Carter all did their part on the back line to clean out any Los Alamitos attempts.
The Griffins’ best shot to score came in the 63rd minute. JSerra keeper Ryan Campbell knocked down a long shot and the rebound popped away into the box. As Los Alamitos crashed in, Campbell dove to her left to cover the ball just before a Griffin attacker could get a foot in.
JSerra locked down the final minutes, and D’Aquila’s goal sealed the deal for good.