Isabella D’Aquila put her hands on her hips and stared at the ground in obvious frustration.
She specializes in scoring goals for the JSerra girls’ soccer team, but her shot from in close had just caromed off the opposing goaltender, rather than settle in the back of the net.
Never mind that the Lions were just seconds away from another shutout victory, they play at one speed, expect results and don’t let off the gas until the final whistle blows.
It’s that tenacity, combined with sheer talent, that’s made JSerra a CIF-SS Division I champion the past two seasons. Throw in their unyielding desire to succeed and there’s no question the Lions are favored to win another title this winter.
“The reason they’ve won championships is because they never stop,” JSerra coach Greg Baker said. “I don’t care what anybody thinks, these kids do not think they’re the favorites. That’s why they work so hard to the very end.”
JSerra entered the season ranked No. 3 in the nation by USA Today, moved to No. 1 after an 8-0-0 start and remained in the top spot, even after playing to a 0-0 tie against Santa Margarita in a rainy Trinity League game on Jan. 15.
A tie is almost expected when the Lions and Eagles play. After all, they’re more familiar with each other than most league rivals.
They not only met twice last season in league play, but twice more in the postseason.
JSerra beat Santa Margarita 1-0 in the Division I final last season a goal by D’Aquila in the 54th minute, and five days later the Lions won on penalty kicks in a Southern California Regional semifinal. Both rosters are filled with girls who grew up playing in South Orange County with and against each other.
If they meet in the Division I final the last weekend in February, Baker expects another close game.
“If you didn’t play them two or three times a year, they might be different, but since you do, it’s easy for the coaches to make adjustments that will keep the chess game tight,” Baker said.
D’Aquila scored 34 goals as a sophomore, leading the Lions to their first CIF-SS title when she scored the only goal of regulation in the championship game against Mater Dei and again in a shootout.
D’Aquila came back with 39 goals last season and was named the Gatorade National Girls Soccer Player of the Year. She has signed with Santa Clara.
Plenty of others make JSerra the toughest team to beat in Southern California.
Mainly, the Lions feature an unyielding defense that blanked 11 of their first 15 opponents this season. That side of the field is dominated by juniors Ryan Campbell, Kendyll Fritts and Jordyn Gather, each of whom has committed to UCLA.
Campbell is a goalkeeper who posted 20 shutouts last season and helped win four games via penalty kicks. Fritts and Gather have effectively controlled the back line the past two seasons.
Baker said his biggest challenge is getting all his talented players on the field. In addition to his 11 starters, there’s another 11 he rotates into games.
“That’s a good problem to have,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of girls that want to play, and a lot of girls that can play.”