Sunny Hills Lancers players celebrate their victory over Aliso Niguel in the championship match of the Aliso Cup tournament. The score was 1-1, with Sunny Hills winning 2-1 on penalty kicks.

Sunny Hills knocks off Aliso Niguel to win Aliso Cup


ALISO VIEJO - The Sunny Hills girls soccer team entered the county’s first major preseason tournament looking to show that it could compete on the same level with some of the county’s top and most established teams.

The Lancers ended the tournament hoisting the championship cup as proof that they are indeed are worthy of being considered one of the county’s elite.

Junior Maribell Morales scored the match-tying goal in the first half, and goalies Maggie Morales and Amanda Poertner each came up with big penalty kick saves, as the Lancers edged No. 1 Aliso Niguel, 2-1, in penalty kicks after the teams played to a 1-1 tie in the championship match of the Aliso Cup on Monday night at Aliso Niguel High.

“We are so happy to prove that we are one of the best teams regardless of what division we play in,” Morales said. “I feel like we made a huge statement in Orange County.”

Sunny Hills (5-1-1) posted a 2-0-1 record against three teams ranked in the top five during the tournament, denying the Wolverines (3-0-2) their second consecutive Aliso Cup championship.

“It’s an incredible honor and breakthrough for our program,” Lancers coach Jeff Gordon said. “Winning this tournament earns us some respect, but at the same time, it’s just the beginning of the year.”

Though the Lancers were able to penetrate the Wolverines attacking third early in the match, they were unable to get any quality looks at the goal.

The Wolverines capitalized on a set piece chance in the ninth minute, as senior Sarah Wehan tracked down a corner throw in and managed to tap a bouncing shot to the left of Maggie Morales and into the far post corner of the goal to give Aliso Niguel a 1-0 lead.

Aliso Niguel had two chances to add to the lead in the 18th and 19th minutes, but Morales slapped away a shot headed to the upper corner of the goal and a header by junior Gianna Dawson off a cross from fellow junior Dominique Bond-Flasza sailed just wide of the near post.

Sunny Hills once again began to penetrate the attacking third, but senior Danica Koos made big defensive clears in the 24th and 29th minutes to turn the Lancers away.

But the Lancers pressure finally yielded the match-equalizer in the 35th minute. Off a corner throw in from senior Kirsten Martin, Maribell Morales received the ball, angled toward the middle of the field, and blasted a low line drive that went to the left of Wolverines senior goalie Riley Sims and into the far post corner.

"Coach called for her (Martin) to throw the ball in to me and thankfully she threw it to my feet,” Morales said. “I saw an open shot and hit a drive into the corner.”

Martin admitted that the Lancers went against their usually strategy in that situation.

“Usually on that we play, we try to play it down the line and get a cross off,” Martin said. “I turned and our coach told me that she was wide open. Maribell has been playing phenomenal for us and I was able to get it right to her feet.” 

Aliso Niguel came out possessing deep into the attacking third in the second half. Though the Wolverines outshot the Lancers 7-2 in the half, they were unable to find the back of the net.

Sophomore goalie Amanda Poertner made four big saves in the second half, including a diving save to her right to stop a shot by Wolverines senior Lindsey Doyle in the 57th minute and a diving save to her left on a shot by sophomore Sarah Roberts in the 58th minute.

“I’m always watching for the shots and the main thing is just to stay calm and focus on the game.” Poertner said. “Our defense didn’t break and it worked out for us at the end in a high pace game with Aliso Niguel.”

Despite more late pressure in the final moments of the match, defenders Kendra Serrano and Shawna Wilson helped the Lancers repel the attack and force penalty kicks.

Maggie Morales came up huge for the Lancers on the Wolverines’ first two attempts, diving to the left to stop Koos and diving to the right to stop Roberts.

“I always try to stay focused during Pk’s and not let anything get to me,” Morales said. “I watched where they were about to kick it and chose which side to go for. Sometimes, you guess right.”

After Megan Hodgson sent a shot into the left corner to give Sunny Hills a 2-0 advantage, Poertner made it three straight saves for the Lancers, diving to the right to block a shot by senior Alex Howell.

Gordon highlighted the benefit of having two goalies that have dealt with big match pressure.

“They both played for us last year and have tremendous experience,” Gordon said. “They were calm and composed and we trust them completely to make the saves they need to make and not make mental mistakes.”

Wolverines freshman Myranda Baca cut the Lancers lead in PK’s to one with a successful conversion, but on Aliso Niguel’s final attempt, junior Ashley Ramirez sent a shot the ricocheted off the post to clinch the title for the Lancers.

“We only gave up one good shot and she (Morales) hit a bomb and had a great goal,” Wolverines coach Randy Dodge said. “Sunny Hills did a good job and they are a very good team that will do well in their division. Our issue is that we created great scoring chances, but couldn’t put them away. Our new players have to realize that we are going to take everyone’s best game, and as team, we have to recover from this.”

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