Powerhouse and Parity: The 2018 OC Girls Lacrosse Championship Tournament

Players and coaches work for fifty-one weeks preparing for the next seven days. Set the gearshift for the high gear of your soul. It’s tournament time!

The Tournament at a Glance

Historically, the Orange County Girls Lacrosse Championship Tournament has not been the roller-coaster ride sports fans have come to expect from the NCAA basketball “March Madness” tournaments. The teams have been playing each other all season and the seeding has been approved by a seven-person committee appointed by the OC chapter of US Lacrosse. As much as we love to see the Cinderella team dance in glass slippers, the fact is that over the last two years, in thirty OC Tournament games played, there have been only four upsets.

So have some fun with your bracket. Try to find those sleeper teams. But don’t be surprised if the Final Four is all Tartans, Monarchs, Knights, and Eagles.

With that said, there is tremendous parity in the #3-13 spots. The regular season produced six overtime games between these teams, along with an additional fifteen one- and two-goal games. We see No. 9 Esperanza in the third spot on the quality wins chart, behind only SMES and Foothill. #13 Los Alamitos took down #5 Trabuco Hills, and we also saw upsets from Newport Harbor, San Juan Hills. Most notably, in a win to inspire any would-be Cinderella, #7 San Clemente surprised #3 Foothill in the early stages of the season.

The Top Two Spots

St. Margaret’s has earned the #1 spot with near-flawless play all season. Consider: The Tartan’s power rating is 81.93, while #2 Mater Dei’s is 76.73—which is just over a five-point spread. In the next five point spread, from 76.73 to 71.53, there are seven teams. This is what domination looks like, by the math.

They are on point not only at game time, but they are also an intensely focused group every day at practice. After the SMES-SMCHS game, I had the opportunity to speak to senior and junior ; I was struck by how singularly focused they were on their team and the present. As for their game, It’s easy to get dazzled by their offensive output—most notably that 64% of their goals are assisted. But the stealthy strength of the SMES game plan is their defensive game, from their relentless ride to their fortress of a zone.

With the talent on the field, a top-notch coaching staff headed up by , and a lethal mix of humility and confidence, the Tartans are poised to take down the 2018 OC Championship.

In order to hoist the trophy, SMES will likely have to face Mater Dei in the Finals. There is a lot of lacrosse to be played between now and then, and teams such as Foothill and Santa Margarita cannot be counted out. But if the last two seasons offer any history lesson, it is that #1 will face #2 for the Championship.

It’s strange to think that Mater Dei might have to pull off an upset to earn its third OC Championship in a row. To get a sense of how dominant Mater Dei has been over the last several years in Orange County, think about this: The class of 2018 took 76% of Mater Dei’s total offensive output with it (376/495 points)—along with the goalie who anchored them through the undefeated run. Yet the Monarchs have continued to dominate in OC, losing only to the #1 Tartans, 12-10, back on March 20.

Mater Dei has three things going for them that might give them the edge to stay atop the county for another year: 1) Staying true to form, Coach has pitted her team against a grim schedule of gnarly opponents. The Monarchs give up some ground in the win column to prepare for the tournament; look for those investments to pay off this coming week. 2) They are used to winning, and winning is about as good a habit a team can have come playoff time. 3) As noted above, they lost by only two to St. Margaret’s earlier this year, and as any lax rat can tell you, you can score two goals in under a minute.

Game-by-game Breakdown

If you are looking for the best game to attend, go to either #8 Beckman vs. #9 San Juan Hills or #5 Trabuco vs. #12 Newport Harbor.

#1 St. Margaret’s vs. #16 Corona Del Mar

The Matchup – As we might expect in the 1v16 matchup, St. Margaret’s has the edge in every way. After a coming up just short of the Championship game as a young team in 2017, the more mature and lethally locked in Tartans are not about to falter in the first round. Corona del Mar, on the other hand, graduated a dominant class in 2017, making 2018 a rebuilding year. Of course, every fan who has no stake in the game is cheering for the underdog, and it would be an amazing send-off to departing coach if CDM pulls off the miracle.

Players to Watch – For CDM, senior veteran and 2017 all-county goalie Ashley Olsen will be a factor if the Sea Queens keep it close. Up and down the field, look for juniors Ellery Amdor and along with sophomore Caroline Brewster to play the role of hero. For the Tartans, senior , juniors and , sophomore , and freshman have combined for 201 goals and 116 assists.

The Bottom Line – St. Margaret’s wins comfortably

#2 Mater Dei vs. #15 El Dorado

The Matchup – For the second straight year, El Dorado has earned a playoff spot after posting fourteen regular season wins. Coach Patrick O’Donnell has seen the payoff of a steadily improving program that is now poised to break through into the top ten one of these years. Unfortunately for the Golden Hawks, they are up against an extraordinarily talented Mater Dei team that is eager to prove that they belong at the top of Orange County.

Players to Watch – El Dorado boasts serious scoring threats in seniors Morgen Stark (43 G, 11A), Anna Conrado (26G, 40A), junior Brittany Robles (31G 4A), and sophomores Ashley Swearington (32G, 6A) and (64G, 16A). The question is whether or not they will be able to make their magic against the top-tier defense of Mater Dei. For Mater Dei, senior Sidney Payne, juniors , , and Peyton Smith, along with sophomore Georgia Glowaki have scored 170 goals and 53 assists.

The Bottom Line – Mater Dei wins comfortably.

#3 Foothill vs. #14 Tesoro

The Matchup – Foothill coach and Tesoro’s Lauren Ciccomascolo have coached together for the OC National Team and have a healthy, friendly rivalry, and a similar approach to coaching. Foothill definitely has the advantage in both talent and experience, but Tesoro boasts a few up-and-coming players that will challenge the veteran Knights. The Titans played Foothill to a three-goal loss on April 16, and Foothill has been decimated by injuries this year—three ACL’s and one concussion to star player Ashley Stokes. Don’t count Tesoro out, but expect Foothill to move on.

Players to Watch – Tesoro freshman phenom Paris Melberg scored 52 goals and 14 assists in the regular season, so look for her to take center stage in any bid for an upset. Veteran senior is a strong, dominant midfielder with a dangerous shot. For Foothill, the first player to watch is Brooke Williams, a dynamic athlete who dominates in the attacking half of the field with 84 goals and 17 assists. Veteran, four-year varsity player will surely make the best of her OC swan song. And junior has racked up 41 goals and 21 assists this season. Also, keep an eye out for #10 Ashley Stokes; if she is cleared to play, her teammates will welcome the four goals and two assists she averages per game.

The Bottom Line – Tesoro may stay within reach through the first half, but Foothill will steadily build a lead that sustains them to the end.

#4 Santa Margarita vs. #13 Los Alamitos

The Matchup – Santa Margarita beat Los Alamitos 14-4 on April 19, and not much has changed since then. The Eagles have been playing steady lacrosse all season, earning victories against all OC opponents aside from the top three teams. They are coached by recent transplant , who played at Northwestern under the legendary Kelly Amonte Hiller. Los Alamitos has been up-and-down all season, with a marquis win over Trabuco Hills and tight losses against a number of top-ten OC teams, such as Esperanza, San Clemente, Aliso Niguel, Tesoro. Their strength of schedule rating is 4th, behind only the OC top-three. Coach Sophia Aragon played ball at , where she set records in ground balls and caused turnovers—which makes her the perfect fit at Los Al, where players have always been scrappy, tough, and gritty.

Players to Watch – Santa Margarita is anchored by a triumvirate of outstanding midfielders: seniors (35G, 11A), Aiden Pike (41G, 1A), and Madeleine Bush (25G, 4A), along with junior Katelyn Murphy (61G, 13A). For the Griffins, veteran seniors , , and Ericka Knapp, along with junior Riley Deutsch and freshman have combined for 110 goals and 34 assists.

The Bottom Line – Los Alamitos will give Santa Margarita a game, keeping it within reach into the second half. But the Eagles will wear them down and pull away by the end.

#5 Trabuco Hills vs. #12 Newport Harbor
(Full disclosure: I coached at NHHS from 2012-2017.)

The Matchup – There is exciting history in this matchup that Trabuco Hills has traditionally dominated. Since 2014, the Mustangs have gone 5-1 against the Sailors, but the average margin of victory has been 2.3 with three one-goal games. In a twist that intensifies the rivalry, the one Newport victory came last year in the form of an upset in the quarter-final of the OC Tournament. This year, on March 29, Trabuco earned the triple-overtime victory, 14-13.

This is truly a tale of two teams. Coach on the Trabuco side is a long-standing OC coach who has led the Mustangs to a string of consecutive playoff appearances over a decade long; on the Newport side, coach is a first-time varsity head coach, but she has collegiate experience from her time at Chapman University. Trabuco’s game plan centers around three dominating, veteran players; Newport’s team is young and relies on any of six or seven different goal scorers to step up and chip in. Averaging more goals for and fewer goals against, Trabuco certainly has the edge on paper—but the paper hasn’t meant much in this rivalry over the last few years.

Players to Watch – The Stallion midfielders are fierce: senior Juliet Mooney (71G, 24A) along with juniors Hennessey Evans (85G, 17A) and Ieneke Jimenez (39G, 28A). Newport Harbor has eight players with double-digit scoring, most notably: juniors (42G, 8A) and (26G, 9A), sophomore Caroline Farley (41G, 8A), and freshman (27G, 5A). Also, keep a lookout for senior captain and top goal-scorer, , who might be able to play through an injury that sidelined her for all of April.

The Bottom Line – Too close to call. (Also, I’m terribly biased.)

#6 Aliso Niguel vs. #11 University

The Matchup – After years of struggling to post winning records, University earned eleven victories in 2017 and twelve in 2016. 2018 has been a banner year for Uni, who has amassed a best-ever 13-3 record.

Aliso Niguel comes into the game in the opposite scenario: After years in or around the OC top-ten under the direction of veteran coach Dave Elkins, 2016 and 2017 were tough years for the Wolverines, who failed to make the playoffs each season. They come into the game 2-2 against top-ten opponents, and they have lost only one game by more than two goals. With a much more competitive schedule under its belt, and a higher quality win rating, expect ANHS to have the edge for the duration of the game.

Players to Watch – For Aliso Niguel, senior dominates with 77 goals and 42 assists. Sophomore makes her presence felt with 68 goals and 14 assists of her own. And freshman adds 31 goals and 20 assists. On the University side: Freshman netted 64 and assisted 29 in the regular season. Beyond this, scoring is spread fairly evenly between seniors Ashley Chandler (41G, 10A), Olivia Holms (33G, 17A), and Molly Pirus (20G, 9A), along with junior (22G, 10A). Junior Goalie Gracelyn Caceros boasts a 58% save average.

The Bottom Line – Considering results against common opponents and strength of schedule, expect Aliso Niguel to advance.

#7 San Clemente vs. #10 Esperanza

The Matchup – Esperanza lives up to its name (“Hope”), as it has broken through and earned a number of big wins over teams it has never beaten before (Aliso Niguel, Los Al, Tesoro). Both the Tritons and the Aztecs come into the game with a similar record, and neither team has faced a terribly challenging schedule. Veteran coaches Josh Cain on the SC side and Brian Eisenberg for Esperanza have each found success building programs around consistency and an insistence on high-level lacrosse. San Clemente has the edge in sheer talent and experience, with a trifecta of middies around whom they build their game plan. They are a mainstay in the OC Championship Tournament, while Esperanza is in the big dance for the first time since 2013. But don’t discount the underdog here, as Esperanza boasts four legitimate goal-scoring threats.

Players to Watch – The Triton trifecta: Seniors Shay Hefft and and junior Delainey Iles combined for 133 goals and 49 assists in the regular season—and opened the door to fourteen other goal-scorers. Esperanza goalie Monica Silva has posted a 52% save average this season. Keep an eye on Aztec seniors Brianna Bravo (42G, 20A), (33G, 2A), Isabella Alfaro (22G, 26A), and sophomore McKennah Renfro (46G, 6A).

The Bottom Line – With a slight edge in just about every metric, San Clemente will control the game and earn the victory.

#8 Beckman vs. #9 San Juan Hills

The Matchup – As the opposite of the 1v16 game is the 8v9 matchup.  If history, the seedlings,  and statistics are strong indicators, this will be a tight one.

On March 17, the teams played into double overtime, and San Juan Hills took the victory, 14-13. Beckman has the slight edge in the power rating, but San Juan Hills has a much stronger strength of schedule. San Juan Hills has also earned upsets against top-ten teams San Clemente, Trabuco Hills, and Aliso Niguel. The Patriots have averaged eleven goals per game and seven goals against, while the Stallions score twelve and give up nine. Beckman will have the two best players on the field, but San Juan Hills will have more threats. Beckman assists over half of their goals, while San Juan Hills does the same on just over a third of theirs. Coaches for SJH and for Beckman are veterans with years of experience leading strong programs.

Players to Watch – For Beckman, senior Taylor Stern (61G, 27A) and junior (55G, 17A) have the potential to take over the game. Seniors Layne Takahashi (19G, 20A) and (21G, 21A) can come alive at any time. On the SJH side: seniors Bridget Cain (34G, 15A), Taylor Austin (32G, 7A), (24G, 9A) & Claire Welter (23G, 8A), and sophomores Lucy Hodge (31G, 7A) & Jacy Fischbeck (21G, 10A).

The Bottom Line – With better results against tough opponents and a couple more goal scoring threats, San Juan Hills has the edge in what is likely to turn into a boat race. The Stallions will squeak by with a one- or two-goal victory.