For the Palo Alto girls' soccer team to reach the Central Coast Section Division II championship match on Feb. 23, the Vikings will have to go through two defending champions.
On Saturday, Palo Alto will face 2007 Division II champ Mitty at Los Altos High at noon. Should the Vikings win, they likely would face last season's Division I champ, Los Altos, on Tuesday.
Those are two big hurdles for Palo Alto (14-5-2), seeded seventh in the CCS Division II playoffs and playing without leading scorer Teresa Noyola, who is playing for the U.S. Under-20 National Team in the Four Nations Tournament in Chile.
But, as Paly coach Ernesto Cruz said after his team's 4-0 opening-round win over Cupertino at Santa Clara High on Tuesday: "We know that when we play our best, we can play with anyone."
The Vikings played pretty well against Cupertino. Then again, the Pioneers are from the lower SCVAL El Camino Division and that puts things into perspective. This was a match Palo Alto was expected to win. Anything less would have been a big upset.
Aside from the final score, perhaps the most important factor in Tuesday's match was Paly's defensive effort on Cupertino scoring standout CiCi Kobinski.
Kobinski was one of two players from Northern California who made the USL SYL '91 Select Team last month in Florida. The other player is Paly's Sammi Bengston. Kobinski, however, was heavily marked the entire game and showed her frustration.
Palo Alto made it tougher by taking a 2-0 halftime lead on goals by junior Jessie Duller and sophomore Kelly Jenks. Both were significant. Duller had missed the two previous matches while resting an injured quadriceps muscle. She took a cross from sophomore Erika Hoglund and finished it off.
Jenks wound up scoring twice, once in each half with the first one assisted by junior Sydney Lundgren. With Noyola not expected back until Sunday, Jenks must assume a big role in the offense. She did that Tuesday.
Palo Alto's final goal came after Bengston rocketed a shot on goal from 30 yards out and Cupertino keeper Erin Hammond fumbled the ball. Paly sophomore Kaitlyn Patterson was right there to finish the shot and the Pioneers.
Palo Alto outshot the Pioneers, 16-3, and played without sophomore Alex Nguyen, who was injured during last Friday's 1-0 loss to Mountain View. She was getting an MRI on her knee Tuesday.
Reportedly joining Nguyen and Noyola on the Missing in Action list this Saturday will be junior co-captain Caitlin Watson. A valuable defender as a defensive midfielder, Watson supposedly will be gone visiting colleges this weekend. Thus, Palo Alto will be without both its captains (Noyola is the other).