COSTA MESA — Carden Hall has earned a reputation as a powerhouse in girls' soccer at the Daily Pilot Cup.
The Eagles won fifth- and sixth-grade gold division crowns in 2010 and '11. Last year, they made it to the third- and fourth-grade gold title match before falling to Newport Heights.
Well, the core of that team is now in fifth grade, and it means business.
Carden Hall dominated play in its final fifth- and sixth-grade gold division pool play game Thursday afternoon at Jack Hammett Sports Complex. And, though the Eagles settled for a scoreless tie with St. John the Baptist, they still won their pool and moved on to the quarterfinals.
Carden Hall will play a to-be-determined opponent in a quarterfinal Saturday at 2 p.m., back at Hammett field No. 1.
"They might be young, but they're experienced," said Carden Hall Coach Bryan Burns, who has nine returning fifth-graders from last year's finalists in the younger division. "We'll see what happens. Expectation-wise, I would say you never know. There's always that 'kick and chase' team that can get you ... we can probably play a kick and chase game and be more successful, to be honest with you, but for me it's about teaching the kids how to play a style."
Though the Carden Hall side is mostly fifth-graders, they are experienced. Burns' daughter, Mia, plays club for SC Blues, while forward Mia Ferrentino and defender Jordan Needham both play for Slammers. Midfielder Sadie Pitchess plays for Newport-Mesa Soccer Club, and defender Evelyn Taylor plays for United FC.
Carden Hall controlled possession even while missing one of its top players, Nicole Ryu.
"She had a play that she was in," Bryan Burns said. "She was one of the key cast members. That's one of the balancing acts as a team in Pilot Cup."
Carden Hall appeared balanced overall, with Mia Burns and Gabby Valeriano pushing the action. Valeriano is just glad to be on the pitch. Last year she said she fractured her ankle in the tournament's second game and had to miss the rest of the action.
Ferrentino, Pitchess and Abby Blaine all got good looks at the goal in the first half. Blaine's was the closest, as her shot caromed off the right post. But St. John's sixth-grader Emma Warner, easily the tallest player on the field, did her best to limit Carden Hall's chances.
Allison O'Heany and Warner, who switched to goalie in the second half, combined for 10 saves for St. John's. Coach Chris Ware decided to put one of his best players, Megan Shillington, back on defense as well. Shillington saved a goal in the second half by clearing a ball off the goal line. It went to Ferrentino in the box, but the shot was just over the net.
Moments later, a cross into the box deflected off a defender and toward the goal, but Warner made a diving save.
"It was pretty crowded," Mia Burns said. "We needed more space and more passing."
St. John, which failed to move on past pool play, did see improvement from a 3-0 loss to Kaiser in its tournament opener.
"Defense, that's where we kept our best player, because we knew they had very strong forwards," Coach Chris Ware said. "That was our emphasis in the first half. In the second half, we tried to work it up to the forwards and use the wind. That was really our philosophy. It worked out OK. It was a lot better game for us than it was [Wednesday], that's for sure."
Other contributors for St. John included Bella Do, Ana Sofia Botero-Cely, Samantha Buley, Sabrina Fedele, Swe Garzon, Gretchen Hohenstein, Damarys Mondragon, Maggie Moran, Paulina Cortez, Sydney Arcemont, Makenna Collick, Cecelia DePasquale, Olivia Lee, Gabriela Mourani and Olivia Stephens.
Amanda Golding made four saves for Carden Hall, which also received strong efforts from Maria Reichner, Zoe Ziebarth, Ainsley Lane, Riley Foster and Rachel Spataro.
"The girls were just unlucky," Bryan Burns said. "They hit a couple posts, they put three or four over the crossbar. It's just hard luck, but that's soccer. You can dominate a game and lose. We happened to dominate a game and tie, so what do you do? But I think they played well."