Wed, Jul 24 2013 05:37 PM Posted By: Phillip Brents
Elie Magracia may be among the newcomers on this year’s San Diego SeaLions women’s soccer team but she scored the teams’ two most important goals of the season in last Saturday’s 2-1 double overtime victory against the Storm Elk Grove in the Women’s Premier Soccer League Western Regional championship game in Sacramento.
It was Magracia’s two tallies that sent the SeaLions into this weekend’s WPSL Final Four with a chance to win a national championship title.
The WPSL Final Four championships will also be contested in Sacramento.
The trip to the league’s championship tournament is familiar territory for SeaLions head coach Jen Lalor-Nielsen, another BVHS graduate, who led the San Diego team to the 2006 WPSL Final Four in Salt Lake City as a player.
The SeaLions were making an appearance in their third consecutive western regional tournament.
They now join the New England Mutiny, Houston Aces and defending national champion Gulf Coast Texans from Pensacola, Fla., in the WPSL Final Four.
The SeaLions will take on the Texans in the second semifinal on Saturday, July 27, at 7:30 p.m. The Aces will play the Mutiny in the first semifinal at 5:30 p.m. The winner of each game will advance to the title match on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
The two semifinal losers will play in Sunday’s third-place game that kicks off at 5:30 p.m.
All games will be played at Elk Grove High School.
Magracia, now an assistant coach with the University of San Diego’s women’s soccer program at her alma mater, proved her worth on the trip north by scoring three of the SeaLions four goals in the two-day regional tournament.
She saved her best performance for the regional championship game against the three-time WPSL champion Storm.
"Scoring on both of those goals was so surreal," said Magracia, a 2008 BVHS graduate, in a team release. "After each of them, all I could do was scream, and when everyone surrounded me both times I just repeated 'I love you all so much!' These girls want it.”
The SeaLions remain undefeated on the season at 10-0-1. The team wrapped up the Pacific South Division title with a 5-0-1 record to qualify for last weekend’s regionals.
The SeaLions shut out the Tucson Soccer Academy, 2-0, on Saturday before engaging the Storm in Sunday’s marathon championship game.
Lalor-Nielsen’s pregame message heading into the title game against the Storm was to “break the cycle” of two consecutive losses in the regional championship match.
“We are reaching the pinnacle of our season, where every moment counts, and executing our opportunities becomes extremely crucial,” the SeaLions coach noted in a team release. “This team is prepared. They have trained hard all season for this very moment."
The San Diegans responded by dominating the opening minutes both on offense and defense, though just like the teams’ first meeting July 6 at Mater Dei Catholic High School, the Storm eventually got its game into gear.
The final 25 minutes of the first half and the entire second half went back and forth, with both teams creating good scoring opportunities.
However, the match remained scoreless.
The WPSL’s tiebreaker formula includes two 15-minute overtime periods. If the game remains tied, kicks from the mark are used to determine a winner.
The first OT period finished scoreless and both teams proceeded to the second extra time period.
In the fifth minute of the second OT stanza, the SeaLions capitalized on a free kick near midfield. The SeaLions bunched players near the top of the 18-yard box and players from both teams ran toward the goal as the ball was served into the box.
After a pair of ricochets, the ball dropped in front of Magracia, who was guarded on both sides by Storm defenders. With little time to react, she pounced on the loose ball and struck it, sending the ball over the head of Storm goalkeeper Emily Kruger into the back of the net.
“If I took a touch, they would surely close in on me,” Magracia recalled. “I thought I had better strike it, and just keep it on frame.
“Everything I do is usually in slow motion, but once I hit the ball, and it went into the net, it was fast, so I must have struck it perfectly. It was one of the most exceptional feelings you can get while playing the game of soccer.”
As in the teams’ regular season match-up at MDCHS, Ghanaian national team player Elizabeth Cudjoe of the Storm proved difficult to contain. She got loose on a one-on-one situation with SeaLions ’keeper Kaycee Gunion three minutes after Magracia’s go-ahead goal and, after being stuffed twice on breakaways in the July 6 game, kept her composure to place the ball past Gunion to equalize the score at a goal apiece.
As time ticked down in the second overtime period with the teams once again deadlocked, Lalor-Nielsen and assistant coach Lu Snyder began drawing up a list of players to participate in he KFM tiebreaker.
But Magracia and SeaLions teammate Alicia Piz had other ideas.
With two minutes remaining in the second OT period, Piz gathered the ball with her back to the Storm net near the penalty dot. Immediately, Piz attracted the attention of several Storm defenders but managed to get a toe on the ball and lay it off to Magracia, who side-footed the ball to the back post.
The SeaLions successfully managed to run out the clock after the restart to claim the hard-fought one-goal victory and a berth in the Final Four national championship.
“I can't express how much I have grown to love this team in such a short amount of time,” Magracia said. “Yes, every team has its ups and downs, laughs and tears, blood and sweat, but not every team has the chemistry, fight, and maturity that we have. It's obviously nice that I scored both goals, but I would be just as happy if it were anyone else on the team, as long as we got the result. All I care about is doing my best for this team, and now it has come down to getting one win Saturday and one more on Sunday."
SeaLions veteran co-captain Danica Carey, who was unable to participate in this year’s playoffs due to a injury incurred in the team’s 4-2 win against Beach FC on July 13, cheered her squad on from the bench.
“Winning regionals this year has only made us even hungrier to claim it all,” Carey said. “This team deserves to win it all this year, and we have earned every single win on our record. We all have an extreme amount of pride in our game, and faith in the talents of one another. On paper we may look like a misfit group from all levels and divisions of soccer, but on the field the way we all compliment one another is powerful, and I am so proud of our team and what we have accomplished together."
The SeaLions met Big Sky-North Division champion Tucson in the regional semifinals, winning on a head shot by Jacquelyn Witz (30th minute) and Magracia (56th minute).
The victory against Tucson advanced the SeaLions to the regional final against the Storm, which edged Northwest Division champion A.C. Seattle, 1-0, in the other semifinal.
Lalor Nielsen was obviously elated by her team’s play in the clutch match-up. "We scored two great goals, and our back line and goalkeeper Kaycee Gunion was incredibly solid,” the SeaLions coach said.
Road to the playoffs
The SeaLions captured both of their home matches at Mater Dei Catholic High School. After taming the previously undefeated Storm on July 6, the SeaLions recorded a 4-0 victory against L.A. Premier on July 14 to close out regular season play.
Rosie Tantillo scored the opening two goals of the match in the 11th and 19th minutes and drew the assist on the team’s third goal, scored in the 37th minute, as teammate Danielle Ross headed in a corner kick service.
The SeaLions’ final goal came late in the second half as UCSD alumna Jessica Wi crossed the ball to fellow Triton Cassie Callahan, who headed the ball inside the far post.
The SeaLions had officially clinched the division title the previous evening at the Home Depot Center in Carson with the win over Beach FC. The SeaLions took a 3-0 lead in the match on goals by Witz, Tantillo and Alex Webber.
After Morgan Hilby drew Beach FC back to within two goals on a head shot in the 40th minute, the SeaLions put the game away in the 63rd minute as Nikki Petracca scored on an easy tap-in at the back post off successive passes from Sarah Devine, Judy Christopher, Tantillo and Elise Britt.
The division title was the third consecutive for the SeaLions.
For updates, visit the SeaLions official website at www.sealionsoccer.com.
Note: press releases from the San Diego SeaLions were used in preparing this story
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