Alexa Kreshek knew the heat was on late Saturday morning as the Beverly Hills High School (BHHS) girls’ soccer team warmed up for its CIF Southern Section playoff match. The junior goalkeeper wisely implored her teammates to first battle the 90-degree temperatures before going into battle on the steamy pitch against Ventura High School.
“Drink water! Stay hydrated!” Kreshek commanded her teammates as she doused her head with a water bottle for some momentary relief minutes before kickoff.
Following Kreshek’s lead, the Normans did all they could to keep cool once the game started, too. Unfortunately, the visiting Cougars used some relentless firepower and a stifling defense to eliminate BHHS from the Division 4 tournament with a 2-0 first-round victory.
The loss represented a bittersweet 12-hour period for the BHHS sports program. The night before on the same field, the boys’ soccer team was eliminated from the CIF playoffs with 4-2 loss to Bishop Amat Memorial High School. At roughly the same time in the nearby Swim Gym, the boys’ basketball squad was knocked out of its playoff tournament by visiting Crespi Carmelite High School, 53-38.
Talk about three the hard way.
“It’s hard to lose, especially after a hard-fought season, especially (after) all three teams qualified for the playoffs,” said Giulian Laudisa, an attacking midfielder on the boys’ soccer team as he supportively watched the girls play. “It hurts, but at least we all qualified and did well in our regional leagues. We showed we have a lot of good young talent. I think all the programs are moving in a good direction.”
Almost from the start, Ventura’s attack kept the pressure on Kreshek and seemed to wear down the Normans as much as the weather conditions. Kreshek made no less than four superb saves in the first half before Ventura (12-6-2) took the lead with a little more than five minutes remaining before intermission.
“Ventura, that area, plays a physical brand of soccer,” said Normans coach Ryan Franks, whose team finished the season with an 11-4 record. “So, moving forward, when we’re looking to schedule next year, we’ll be scheduling some games in that area to prepare for that physicality.”
Esja Moore, a Ventura midfielder, rebounded a header off the crossbar in heavy traffic and found the net for something of a monumental 1-0 lead. Coming into the game, the Normans had recorded 10 consecutive shutouts dating back to early December. Ventura coach Todd Tackett was well aware of Beverly Hills’ “nil” streak entering the game.
“We used that as fodder this week,” said Tackett, now in his 32nd season coaching soccer at Ventura High. “I told the girls to go in there, step on the gas and don’t let off. That’s kind of what we did. For them, it was probably in their head that that was the first time they had been scored on in two months.”
The other portion of Ventura’s game plan was silencing the Normans’ prolific scorer Katrina Chong, a junior midfielder who entered the contest with a school-record 28 goals on the season. The Cougar defenders marked Chong as if she was wearing a uniform covered in Velcro.
“Personally, I just wanted to get a goal back more than anything,” Chong said of the team’s one-goal deficit. “I hate losing, so it fired me up more and I think it fired up our team.”
In the second half, Beverly Hills did ratchet up its efforts on both ends, but the Normans never could put together a sustained offensive push. While substituting frequently to help keep players fresh, the team suffered a string of injuries that thwarted their comeback chances in the second half.
A bloody nose, a respiratory issue and a lower-leg injury were among the ailments suffered by BHHS as Ventura went up 2-0 on a header by Allie Nichols with just under 18 minutes left in the game.
Franks said his team responded well to adversity physical and otherwise during the match, a sign of better things ahead for a team stocked with freshmen and sophomores. In fact, sophomore midfielder Gabrielle Mussry had an impressive shot on goal that could have changed the game’s momentum had it found the target.
“We’re going to build off what we did this year,” Franks said. “No doubt we’re going to take it a step farther next year.”
And bring their own heat with them.