Eight years later and Mater Dei girls’ soccer coach Matty West is getting a refresher course in the challenges that often follow championships.
West led Mater Dei to its second CIF-SS title in program history last March, and the Monarchs seem primed to repeat this season with the return of Division I player of the year Olivia Ware, first-teamer Lauren Hackwith and second-team goalkeeper Madi Puliafico.
West and his players were keenly aware Mater Dei’s reputation would bring out the best in the opposition. Still, the Monarchs opened the season with four consecutive shutout victories.
But the team hit a skid, beginning with a shootout loss to La Costa Canyon in the semifinals of the Butch Lee Memorial tournament Dec. 12 in San Diego, and recorded just one regulation victory over a six-game stretch.
“We seem to be getting every team’s best shot right now,” West said Dec. 29, shortly after a 1-0 loss to Esperanza knocked the Monarchs from the winner’s bracket at the Excalibur Tournament in Irvine.
A similar phrase was likely uttered by West after the first month of 2007-08 season, when the Monarchs set out to defend their first section title in school history, a 1-0 victory against Upland that ended its 60-game unbeaten streak. The Monarchs were victorious in just one of their first seven games, however.
They eventually regrouped that season, defended their Trinity League title and advanced as far as the Division I semifinals. As this season unwinds, West is confident the Monarchs will be just as prepared for Trinity League play, scheduled to begin Jan. 16 against visiting Rosary.
“We’re taking some important steps,” West says.
Ware can sense other teams are playing with extra vigor against the Monarchs. Not only is the opposition fired up to take on the defending Division I champions, but they also realize Mater Dei is a solid test again this season.
Ware and her teammates used that as additional motivation while winning their first four games by a combined score of 14-0, followed by a 2-1 victory against San Diego powerhouse Cathedral Catholic in a quarterfinal at the Butch Lee Memorial tournament.
But the Monarchs showed their first blemishes of the season in the semifinal loss to La Costa Canyon, a team that beat Mater Dei in the Southern California regional final last season. The Monarchs gave up four goals in the rematch, resulting in a 4-4 tie that sent the game to overtime and La Costa Canyon eventually won on penalty kicks.
The emotional letdown seemed to carry over to Mater Dei’s next game, when it was defeated in regulation for the first time this season, 2-0, against Beckman.
The Monarchs were suddenly grasping for that early-season spark, but it’s been more elusive than expected.
“It’s kind of fading away,” Ware says after the loss to Esperanza. “We need to bring it back.”
The Monarchs should certainly possess fresh legs heading into league play, as they had just one game between Dec. 30 and Jan. 16 after playing 12 the first four weeks of the season.
Mater Dei will take any advantage it can get.
“I’m so impressed, again, with the Trinity League,” West says. “It’s going to be ultra-competitive. There’s not going to be an easy game, and we’re going to have to be prepared.”