The Mission Prep girls soccer team has become accustomed to seeing Liberty of Madera across the pitch at least once a year.
For the fourth consecutive season, the teams met in the playoffs with the Royals claiming the past two en route to a championship.
This year, however, Mission Prep couldn’t stop Liberty’s Victoria Burnell, losing 2-0 in the CIF-Central Section Division 5 final on Friday in San Luis Obispo.
Burnell, the nation’s fourth-leading scorer with 55 goals a year ago according to ESPN RISE, was virtually a one-man gang, dribbling around and through the Royals on numerous occasions before being swarmed and forced to give the ball away.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Tribune
“We knew about her, but we elected not to man-mark her or anything,” Mission Prep coach Marcus des Plantes said. “We felt that the team was strong enough to play around her.”
Burnell entered the game with 59 goals. The Royals as a team had managed just three more than Burnell’s total all season.
The teams battled for possession through the early portion of the first half before a foul gave Burnell a free kick from around 25 yards out.
She didn’t miss, bending the ball into the upper left corner of the goal for her 60th goal of the season.
The Hawks (21-3-2) seemed content to sit on the one goal lead. For virtually the entire remaining 50 minutes, Mission Prep attacked, getting a near-goal at the end of the first half on a bizarre play that saw the ball bounce off the crossbar, hitting the football goalpost above before falling to the foot of a Royal who knocked it home.
The goal was waved off because of the goalpost interference and Mission Prep (12-12) didn’t get another scoring chance of that quality for the remainder of the game.
Liberty aggressively marked Mission Prep striker Kori Disarufino, keeping a player or two near her at all times.
“When you have a player as strong as Kori, if the team is smart and the coach scouted us well, they’ll do that,” des Plantes said. “As a team we’re going to have to start learning to score without Kori and lately we’d been finding a way to do that.”
Disarufino, who signed to play collegiate soccer at Nevada, had a number of shots blocked but was unable to put one on goal.
With the Hawks bunkered in their own third, des Plantes made the decision to bring in a third forward and play a flat back three defensively.
“I got a little flack from my team,” des Plantes conceded. “But I thought it was important to take a chance.”
On a rare Liberty counter, Burnell was able to put in her 61st of the year to put the game out of reach.