By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
After failing to reach the Central Coast Section soccer playoffs last season and being dropped to the SCVAL El Camino Division, the Palo Alto girls' soccer team did everything it could to turn that situation around.
The Vikings started by winning the El Camino Division crown this season and earning a berth into the CCS Division I playoffs. Their highly successful season continued Wednesday night with a 5-0 victory over visiting San Benito in a first-round match.
While the Palo Alto players were looking forward to Saturday's quarterfinal match against SCVAL De Anza Division champ Los Gatos, that showdown between league champs will not be held.
The team learned Thursday that it will have to forfeit the win over San Benito plus the final three regular-season matches after having an ineligible player compete.
Freshman Jacey Pederson, a member of the U.S. Under-17 National Team pool, participated in a training camp in late January at the Home Depot Center in Carson. She also played in two "friendlies" against the German 17-U National Team.
Reportedly, those matches were not sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation, the state's governing body for high school sports. Thus, Pederson and some 20 other high school girls from California -- and their respective teams -- were affected by the ruling.
"I don't know exactly what happened," said Palo Alto Athletic Director Earl Hansen. "They (the U.S. Soccer Federation) turned in the paperwork late."
In an e-mail to the parents and student-athletes, Paly Principal Phil Winston wrote:
"It is with intense sadness that I have to share with you a decision made by CCS late today. We had to forfeit our last four games because an ineligible player played. This was no fault of the student-athlete nor the coaches or Athletic Director. The student-athlete participated in a National Training Camp that had been sanctioned by CIF in past years but was not renewed this year.
"Neither the student, AD, nor coaches were notified the camp was not approved by CIF. The net result is we played an ineligible player, which resulted in our being forced to forfeit. We have already talked to CCS and have been told this decision is final. This all came to our attention late last night and we acted as quickly as possible. We were praised by CCS for our integrity and support of student-athletes."
Instead of taking a 14-4-2 record into the CCS quarterfinals on Saturday, Palo Alto forfeits the four matches Pederson played in upon her return from the national camp and thus finishes 10-8-2. Most importantly, the Vikings' season is over.
The key match was Wednesday's section opener against San Benito. Had Pederson been held out and Paly won, the Vikings would be playing on Saturday.
Hansen, however, said he received a text from CCS commissioner Nancy Lazenby Blaser on Wednesday around 5:30 p.m., 30 minutes before the start of the CCS match. The text told Hansen to check his e-mail.
He said he left the field to do just that, returning a call to the CCS office and a text to Lazenby Blaser about 15 minutes prior to the match. At that point, Hansen still wasn't sure what the problem was, other that it involved Pederson.
"We knew it was about Jacey, but we didn't know about what," Hansen said.
Pederson played in the match, scoring a final meaningless goal in the 5-0 victory. The fact she was on the field, however, was costly.
"She (Pederson) didn't intentionally try to hurt anybody," Hansen said. "I don't know how you tell a kid not to go to something that only the top 50 kids in the country are invited to."
The bottom line, of course, is the end of the season for Paly's seniors.
"It's horrible for the other kids (seniors Erin Chang, Nina Kelty, Katherine Maniscalco and Catherine Angell-Atchison). There is no paperwork I can fill out on this one."
Said Chang, the team's starting goalie and a team captain:
"It's incredibly frustrating to lose the chance at the CCS title, but it stings a bit more knowing that we couldn't do anything about it. I really thought we had a chance and for it to be ripped away just like that is heartbreaking. Because we weren't aware of the situation until after the game had been played, we didn't know it would be our last game of the season, and for the seniors, the last game of our high school careers. We had built up so much momentum and such a strong team chemistry that no one would have expected out of us and I only wish we would have been given the chance to compete with the top teams in our division."
Hansen said the problem is between the California Interscholastic Federation and the U.S. Soccer Federation. He said the CIF is looking out for the athletes while the soccer federation is not.
"All they have to do is move dates, so no one would be hurt," Hansen said. "They (the soccer federation) don't care about high school. They're going to do what they want to do when they want to. The bottom line is that the two organizations don't see eye to eye at all."
Pederson isn't the first CCS girl to be affected by this situation. Santa Teresa sophomore Tegan McGrady led her high school team to a top seed in the Division I playoffs, but her team's season will go on without her because she was a member of the U.S. U-17 squad like Pederson.
Santa Teresa is still playing because it had a first-round bye and thus McGrady did not play.
McGrady and Pederson were both at the camp that began Jan. 26. The camp was not approved by the CIF because the national soccer federation submitted its paperwork just a couple of days before the event -- far short of the 30-day notice that the CIF requires.
Santa Teresa forfeited its final four games because McGrady played in those contests as an ineligible athlete. The school was allowed to remain in the CCS playoffs because the ineligibility came to light after the CCS seeding meeting last Saturday.
Hansen, meanwhile, met with Winston, Paly coach Kurt Devlin and team members on Thursday to discuss the situation and explain the end of the team's season.
"They (the players) didn't do anything wrong," Hansen said. "And they're being punished. I don't like that."
In an e-mail to the team and soccer community, Devlin and assistant coach Erin Seedman wrote:
"After a great night of soccer our program has hit a sour note -- a very sour note. Through circumstances beyond our control -- that of the players, coaches, athletic department and school administrators -- our season has come to an abrupt halt. Unfortunately at this time our team will not be able to participate any further in the CCS tournament.
"Our season is over, but what a season it was! Thirteen straight wins, 15 game unbeaten streak, and a stellar first-round playoff performance by our girls last night."
Added Devlin: "Somehow, ST (Santa Teresa) found out earlier than we did and sorted out their situation. We were not able to do so -- actually, we were sort of blind-sided by this . . . . It was out of our control and I am deeply disappointed for our players and supporters. It was difficult to tell the team . . . We were actually a legitimate contender for the title, and then the season comes to a screechng halt. A sad situation."