Inexorable. It was going to happen. It is happening.
As certain as the determination of Coach Amanda Combs Warford and her La Jolla High field hockey players, the continual ascent of the program can be measured in tangible results:
- A Division 1 title game appearance in 2017, which resulted in a narrow 1-0 loss to Mission Vista for the ring.
- A 12-1-2 record to begin the 2019 campaign.
- The championship of the Valley Center Tournament — the first tourney title in the history of the school.
“Definitely,” said Viking Athletic Director Paula Conway, who headed the program for many years and hired Warford three years ago. “We’ve always only played in the Serra tournament when I was coaching, and we never won that.”
What’s remarkable, in the steely determination and the methodical, though personable, preparation is that this year’s squad, which has vaulted out of the gate so quickly, is made up of almost identical players from last year. The 2018 edition ended 9-13, less than they had hoped.
Caeley Hickson Long, a senior captain who plays upper midfield, cites Warford’s emphasis on stick skills, as well as greater connectedness among team members. “Also, structure has gotten stronger,” the 17-year-old history and English enthusiast asserts. “Knowing our position on the field has made a difference.”
About half the varsity roster also plays for Warford on her club team, Coastal Clash. In pursuit of the Serras and Scripps Ranches of the San Diego CIF Section, this is a crucial element in developing players beyond the school-only, ninth-through-12th-grade experience, which leaves a team short of being able to battle the elite teams on equal terms.
Various Vikings in interviews also identified the development of forward Haley Mossmer, who has become an offensive force; Claire Telford’s emergence as goalkeeper; the rapid development of sophomore Sabine Knott on defense; plus a bonding off the field that has exceeded a “disjointed” feeling of last year.
Telford, who moved up from the junior varsity this year, posted three shutout victories on the final day of the Valley Center Tournament: 3-0 over host Valley Center, 1-0 in the semifinals over Cathedral, and the 3-0 win in the championship game over the same Mission Vista team that had beaten them two years ago for the CIF title.
“We’ve been doing a lot of hitting and trapping in practice,” said Warford. “Also, double-teaming.” The team historically has always played well on defense. What takes time to develop are the offensive stick skills strong enough to move the ball through aggressive defenders to drive the ball to the goal.
Mossmer, in La Jolla’s first game in the Serra tournament, displayed a relentless attack against a La Costa Canyon defense put back on its heels. Haley bashed in a goal in the first three minutes, and that stood up for a 1-0 victory.
Serene Liu, the other team captain and senior defender, said about La Jolla’s first tournament championship ever: “I didn’t know, but I’m not surprised. I’ve seen how the program has developed in my three years.”