MISSION VIEJO -- Randy Dodge wasn't concerned when his team fell behind San Clemente High School in the first half of Friday night's CIF-Southern Section girls soccer final. He knew he had the depth and the skill to overcome anything thrown his way, and more than that, there was belief within the squad.
Aliso Niguel rallied for two goals in the final 15 minutes to claim a 2-1 triumph over their South Coast League archrival to win the Division 1 title at Mission Viejo High School.
“Dudes, this is frickin' awesome ...,” Dodge exclaimed as the Wolverines (19-1-5) collected their trophy. “We weathered their storm, and our kids just believed. Our kids just believed. One thing we talked about was no regrets ever.”
Sophomore forward Dominique Bond-Flasza netted the winner with a little more than seven minutes to go, poking home a loose ball after Ashley McCutcheon's header from Ashley Ramirez's corner kick was blocked on the goal line by San Clemente's Ally Lynn.
It gave Aliso Niguel, from Aliso Viejo, its second CIF soccer crown and ensured its participation in next week's CIF Southern California Regional Championship, the closest thing California has to a state tournament. The Wolverines are fifth in ESPNHS's Fab 50 national rankings.
San Clemente (18-3-7), the only team to beat Aliso this season, lost in the final for the third straight year. The Tritons were making their fifth successive title-game appearance and seeking their sixth championship in 11 years.
“We always play great soccer,” said San Clemente coach Stacey Finnerty, whose team, No. 4 on ESPNHS's list, went 1-2-1 against Aliso this year and hadn't lost since a Mater Dei tournament defeat to the Wolverines in mid-December. “You play against a team that kicks it constantly and [is] physical, it got to us at the end of the game. It wasn't quality soccer, but it worked today. We couldn't keep our quality game.”
Nikki Faris gave the Tritons a 14th-minute lead, catching star Aliso goalkeeper Sammi Jo Prud'homme off her line, but the Wolverines started taking control at the end of the first half, were unfortunate not to equalize shortly after halftime and received a goal-saving clearance from Jordan Ansara midway through the second half.
Lauren Benner scored a beauty in the 66th minute with a side-volley to make it 1-1, and Aliso kept pushing until Bond-Flasza's reaction shot in the 73rd.
“It dropped right in front of me, and I was just there, and I placed inside the far post,” Bond-Flasza said. “I don't know [what I was thinking]. My mine was kind of clear, just basically get it into the net.”
Dodge, who also guides Aliso's boys team, is in charge of Vanguard University's NAIA-level men's and women's teams, and coaches in the powerhouse Southern California Blues club, said was confident from the start.
“Our whole philosophy coming in was we knew [San Clemente wasn't] deep,” he said. “We knew we could run 18, 19 players [in and out], and we just believed in our kids. I told them at halftime, I told them, 'Look, you've worn them down, now we go after it. Every time we go hard, we go hard, we go hard.' Things started falling our way. …
“This is the best group of kids ever. No drama, nothing. They would screw around, we would have a good time. Game after game after game after game after game, they just performed.”
That the final victory came against San Clemente meant something, too.
“It's the biggest rivalry in Orange County, there's no question about it,” Dodge said. “Stacey Finnerty is an incredible human being. They're world-class as a program. We've always tried to emulate them and do what we can do win.”