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By Jeff Pack
Staff Writer 

Warriors field hockey wins CIF Div. II championship

 

Last updated 11/17/2019 at 7:33pm

Courtesy of Emily Schmierer

The Fallbrook Union High School Girls Field Hockey team poses for photos after winning the CIF San Diego Section Division II championship over No. 1-seeded San Marcos High School on Saturday, Nov. 16.

In a game that was always going to be decided by the slimmest of margins, the Fallbrook Union High School Girls Field Hockey team scored once early in the second half and then tightened up defensively to close out a 1-0 win over San Marcos in the CIF Division II Field Hockey championship match on Saturday, Nov. 16.

Entering the tournament as the No. 7 seed, the Warriors peaked at the right time as a team to take down the No. 1-seeded Knights at Serra High School.

"It was a rough trip," Warriors Co-Head Coach Debbie Berg said after the game. "We actually had to beat the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 1 teams in order to get there."

The Warriors opened CIF play with a 5-0 win over Mira Mesa at Fallbrook High on Nov. 9, then took down No. 2 seeded Mission Hills in overtime on the road on Nov. 11 before taking out No. 3 seeded Clairemont on their home field, also in overtime.

That set up a showdown with the Knights on Saturday - a team the Warriors had not beaten in three matchups this season - losing narrowly twice and tying them once.

Adding more intrigue into the match, Knights' head coach Heidi Kooyman Harris is a graduate of Fallbrook High and is the daughter of Fallbrook's JV head coach, Emily Kooyman. Her brother, Collin, also coaches at Fallbrook.

"The joke was that if we both made it to the finals, we were going to flip a coin to decide who wins and then go to dinner," Berg said. "Obviously, that's not what we did."

With both teams being strong defensively, both squads knew they wouldn't have many opportunities to score.

The Warriors limited the Knights to very few offensive opportunities and less than a handful of shots during the entire game. The Warriors were struggling to find chances as well early on.

"Erin Murray and Alexis Sanchez, they are our top ball handlers and they can really run and handle the ball well," Berg said. "(San Marcos) double-teamed Murray, so she probably played 6 or 7 positions during the game, we just kept moving her around, making it tough for them to double-team her."

But the two seniors would find a way to change the game, despite heavy attention from the Knights' defense.

After a scoreless first half, the Warriors seized upon the opportunity to score on an offensive corner when senior midfielder Murray rifled a shot toward the San Marcos goal that fellow senior Sanchez redirected into the goal, setting off wild celebrations.

Sanchez had a big playoff run for the Warriors, she also scored the deciding goal in overtime of the semifinal match two days earlier.

"Once we were up one goal, we had to rely on something that we know is our strength," Berg said. "We added an extra defender and played with one forward."

Fallbrook High, which filled up a bus of about 50 students to drive down to the match, had packed stands filled with family, alumni, fans, and teachers from the school to support the Warriors.

That support was crucial as the Warriors closed out the championship, Berg said.

The Warriors, who have won several CIF titles in the past, were last in the finals in 2011. Bringing home this title meant a lot to Berg, considering the uncertainty surrounding the program in recent years.

"We've been telling the girls that they absolutely can play with anybody in our league and they really started to believe it when we were holding some very good teams to very close games, whether we won or lost," Berg said. "We were in the games. That helped them believe."

It helped that the Warriors were increasingly strengthened as players who were injured at points during the season returned to the team. When they lined up on Saturday, they had 10 seniors and 1 junior on the field.

"We started to get some of our players back from injury and more healthy," Berg said. "We had quite a few injuries about mid-season and we had all but one healthy enough to play.

"They just had a lot of heart and outplayed the other team."

The Warriors were also a well-conditioned team, according to Berg, which made a huge difference in the season and the game.

"We had some very early weeks of, I guess you would call hell weeks," Berg said. "Very heavy in the conditioning and the girls know how important it was for us to be at that athletic level. Most of our goals all year came in the second half where other teams were getting a little tired. We still had gas in the tank."

The Warriors will be celebrated during the nutrition period at Fallbrook High on Tuesday, Nov. 19.

Going forward, Berg, who shares coaching duties with Jeremiah Fuller, thinks the program has turned the corner.

"My hope is that this success will breed more interest and we'll be able to, build even more than we have in this last year," Berg said. "It all starts with a feeder program, we have a Potter Junior High field hockey program and they're doing great things at that level. So I would assume by the time they get to the high school level they have some skills and some strategy and have the conditioning to do well at our level."

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.

 

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