Sophia Sasaki has been a goalkeeper for most of her girls soccer career and has faced plenty of penalty kicks
The Mountain View senior grabbed the spotlight Friday night, saving a St. Francis penalty kick with just under 12 minutes remaining to play in the Central Coast Section Open Division championship match at Del Mar High.
It may not have seemed that important at the time, with the Spartans holding a 3-goal advantage. But when Charlotte Kohler got St. Francis on the board several minutes later it loomed large.
Mountain View won its fifth overall CCS title with its 3-1 victory over St. Francis.
“This is so special,” Saskai said of the win. “Last year we did not participate in the tournament because of COVID and coming back and going undefeated is a victory in itself.”
Both Mountain View and St. Francis advance into the NorCal tournament, which begins Tuesday at school sites. The seeding meeting will be held Sunday.
“This has been a special team from the first day in September,” said Spartans coach Jeff Panos, who won the 2017 Division II boys title with Serra.
Mountain View owns a 43-8-6 record in Panos’ three years. The Spartans were 141-20-20 in the eight previous years under coach Ivan Bandov. Mountain View’s last losing season was in 2007-08.
The Spartans take a 20-0-1 mark into NorCals. Their lone splotch came in a 1-1 tie with St. Francis (14-1-5) early in the season.
“I thought St. Francis was a little bit better at that time,” Panos said. “Then during league play we started checking off boxes and it was amazing.”
Stanford-bound Allie Montoya scored twice in the first half and five minutes into the second half, senior Abby Westcott somehow squeezed the ball into the upper left corner off a free kick from the right side.
“We weren’t at our best in the first half,” St. Francis coach Carlos Barboza said. “It’s tough when two of their three goals were world-class, really special. This is a good group of girls, who stay positive. It’s their personality to never give up.”
The Lancers, who made their second appearance in an Open Division final, may have been disappointed in missing the penalty kick but it never showed. In fact, it may have galvanized them even more.
A minute later, St. Francis had a shot carom off the football goalpost and another shot went just over the net and under the goalpost.
Kohler delivered a series of corner kicks to the front of the net that forced Saskai to make great saves and/or made the defense work harder.
“Our seniors are great leaders and role models,” Barboza said. “Down 3-0, they continued to push the team to the final whistle. It was a good battle.”
Mountain View’s 14 seniors helped set the tone when they got behind Panos in his first season.
“They bought into the program,” Panos said. “After coming back from COVID, they’re the ones who said ‘let’s make the most of this season.’ “
Sasaki missed a lot of time due to injuries the past two years and rose to a higher level this season.
“She’s extremely intelligent when it comes to reading kickers,” said Panos, who also guided Mountain View to the 2020 Division I crown.
Sasaki, who said she also blocked a penalty kick during the league season, suggested taking penalty kicks during practice for her own and the team’s sake.
“We could have played overtime,” she said. “It’s mostly body cues. I look to see if someone gives it away. Lefties tend to go to my right so I committed to that and it worked out.”
The victory ended Mitty’s four-year reign as Open champions.
“I am so proud of this team,” Sasaki said. “They all worked so hard.”