John Clarke misses this class already.
Three years ago, the San Luis Obispo High girls soccer coach made a bold move by playing seven freshmen. The next year, eight sophomores were represented on the varsity.
As seniors this season, that group led the Tigers further than the program had ever been before, advancing to the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 semifinals for the first time in school history.
That’s where their season ended Tuesday afternoon, as San Luis Obispo fell 2-0 to Martin Luther King of Riverside in front of an overflow crowd at rain-soaked Holt Field.
“I knew that was going to be a special class,” Clarke said of bringing up so many underclassmen at the start of the 2006-07 season.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see (again) these eight types of seniors who’ve really played with each other since they were about yea-high,” Clarke said, positioning his hand just below his chest to indicate their days in youth leagues.
“I’ll definitely miss this class. That’s for sure.”
San Luis Obispo (23-4-2), the PAC 7’s No. 3 seed, made it to the semifinals by virtue of edging Santa Monica 1-0 in overtime, topping Calvary Chapel of Santa Ana 3-1 and then ousting Troy of Fullerton 4-3 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 regulation tie.
“To be the first team in school history that made it to the semifinals, they should be extremely proud of themselves,” Clarke said. “Right now, it’s a sad moment, but when you look back at the season and see what we’ve done and how we played in the playoffs, these girls should be proud.”
In all, 16 of the Tigers’ 21 players this year were upperclassmen, including senior leaders Alessa Moscoso, Kiele Argente, Shannon Fontes, Laura Kraemer, Taylor Gallagher and Vivien Devaney — each of whom started Tuesday.
When the current seniors were sophomores in 2007-08, they played a key role in compiling a school-record 27 wins, although they suffered their only loss of that season in the quarterfinal round.
King (19-9-1), the No. 2 seed from the Big VIII League, came into the contest relying on team speed and featuring UC Riverside-bound senior forward Gabby Arganda.
The Wolves, who moved on to face either top overall seed Santiago of Corona (27-2-2) or Sunny Hills (18-3-4) in this weekend’s title game, scored their first goal in the 10th minute, as Cal State San Marcos signee Rachel Schulte tallied on a short corner kick.
“That was us falling asleep,” Clarke said. “Normally, we’re pretty up on those types of things, and they caught us napping. But you can’t take anything away from (King); that was a great shot.”
The Wolves’ quickness on the muddy pitch was “crucial” throughout, King coach Giovanni Napoletano said.
King got its second score eight minutes into the second half courtesy of forward Alyssa Montejo, who was assisted by Schulte.
Sara Slaughter made six saves in goal for King.
San Luis Obispo narrowly missed a handful of close opportunities late in the second but couldn’t capitalize.
“When you have a lead like that, sometimes the girls can get a little complacent, and you can give a little life back to your opponent,” Napoletano said.
Lauren Harper, a sophomore, made 14 saves in goal for the Tigers.
“She’s done outstanding all year long,” Clarke said. “The sky’s the limit for that young lady.”
The Tigers started this year 14-0-2 overall and 3-0 against PAC 7 foes before going through a brief offensive slump that they eventually worked their way out of, outlasting in the postseason the league’s top two regular-season squads, Arroyo Grande and Righetti.
“I don’t think there were huge expectations on this team,” Clarke said. “When we kind of faltered during league, we wanted to be the last PAC 7 team left in the playoffs and to be the one to represent the league.”