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SHP wins CCS Boys Soccer title

Terry Bernal, San Mateo Daily Journal
This marks the Gators’ first CCS championship in eight years, when they took co-champion honors in the 2013 Division III title game with Menlo School. The last time SHP took CCS championship outright was in 2006 in the Division III tournament.
Superman moments are what make Central Coast Section champions.

Sacred Heart Prep goalkeeper Logan Aboudara took the task fairly literally in the No. 7-seed Gators’ 3-1 victory in the CCS Division II boys’ soccer title match Saturday night at No. 4 Evergreen Valley.

Amid a scoreless tie at the end of the first half, Aboudara went airborne to deflect a shot by Evergreen Valley sophomore Jose Aguilar, slapping it away while elevating horizontal to the ground with full extension. The sophomore keeper said it wasn’t his most athletic save of the season but given the championship spotlight might just be his most memorable.

“I think that was amazing just being able to make that save in front of all these people, it was just super fun,” Aboudara said. “I’ll never forget it.”

The dynamic save kept the scoreless slate intact, setting the stage for an explosive second-half performance by senior forward Kyle Nilsson and the SHP attack.

The Gators (10-3-0) had plenty of opportunities in the first half, peppering three shots on goal in the opening 10 minutes. But while the swift tempo of the SHP forwards was keen to keep the pressure up, the sophisticated complement of widespread wings appeared out of sync on every attack.

And the frustration was showing, leaving the Gators talking to themselves, and vocalizing to each other, that they were squandering precious opportunities.

“It was tough,” SHP senior Chase Dolinko said. “It took a while for us to get it going. It has been taking us a while to get it going this season … it’s been a struggle. But we usually adapt really well. So, I think we did well this game to overcome and adapt to all the challenges we faced. We failed to be clinical in the first half and then we had three goals in the second half, so I think we did well.”

Nilsson and Dolinko established a quick tempo in the second half, pairing to get the Gators on the scoreboard in the 44th minute.

Junior forward Zack Freire put the attack in motion with a surge up the left side, only to have the momentum disrupted by a sliding tackle by the Evergreen Valley defense. But a fast and immediate throw-in kept the pressure up, and SHP used it to play the ball across the field to Nilsson, who drove into the penalty area visibly directing traffic with the point of a finger.

As the Gators’ midfielders coordinated through the middle as per Nilsson’s direction, Dolinko bounced outside to take a short outlet pass. The senior then tapped the ball back to Nilsson in stride for the senior striker to bend a shot inside the far post to give SHP a 1-0 lead.

“I knew from previous to the match they were going to play kind of a low block and ping it a lot,” Nilsson said. “So, we knew from that we were going to experience that play. And that’s how I was able to direct traffic on the field.”

The chemistry of Nilsson and Dolinko is innate, and with good reason. The two began playing soccer together at age 6 with the Alpine Strikers. More recently, they paired with the De Anza Force at the outset of their high school years. Now, they have played four years of varsity soccer together as well.

“We’ve been playing with each other forever, so we just kind of have that chemistry, that bond on and off the field,” Dolinko said.

The two paired in a less conventional way to up the lead to 2-0 in the 71st minute.

In the 70th minute, Nilsson earned nothing but green grass between he and the Evergreen Valley keeper as he turned the left corner and drove into the box with two defenders at his back. Instead of allowing Nilsson a gimmie look at the goal, however, Evergreen Valley fouled him from behind, leaving the senior tumbling violently to the turf.

The play earned Evergreen Valley a yellow card and put SHP at the penalty kick line. It was Dolinko who took the shot, and the senior booted it home to keep his perfect rate of PKs for the season intact.

“I felt really confident,” Dolinko said. “I made all my PKs this season, so I felt really confident when I stepped up to the spot. At that point, when I scored, I thought it put the game away.”

Five minutes later, however, things got interesting when SHP reciprocated the foul in the penalty area at the other end of the field. Evergreen Valley junior Bernardo Zeballos converted the ensuing penalty kick to make it 2-1 in the 76th minute.

“With five minutes left we knew it was going to be chaos,” Sacred Heart Prep co-head coach Armando Del Rio said.

Chaos ensued when Evergreen Valley (8-5-2) took back possession and threw everything forward, only to see SHP senior defender Matthew Kirkham steal the ball away and send it up the field for a mad dash to the opposite goal, opening Luke Maxwell to score on a runaway sprint in the 79th minute to seal the victory.

The Gators were coming off a 2019-20 season that ended with a disappointing loss in the CCS Open Division championship game to Bellarmine.

“We came off a tough loss last season in the Open Division final versus Bellarmine,” Nilsson said. “And we came into this season with a lot of hopes, and we had a rough start in the beginning. But I think this squad really proved something. It was really great to captain the squad and we left it all out on the pitch. For us senior class, a lot of these guys were four-year varsity starters, and for us to win a CCS championship is just really, really amazing and magnificent to just live in that moment.”

This marks the Gators’ first CCS championship in eight years, when they took co-champion honors in the 2013 Division III title game with Menlo School. The last time SHP took CCS championship outright was in 2006 in the Division III tournament.

“Super happy,” Dolinko said. “A little bit sad that my career at SHP is over. But, coming off a semifinal loss sophomore year, and then a loss in the Open Division finals last year, it’s great to bring it home for [head coaches Guillermo Talancon and Armando del Rio], and for my other fellow seniors. It’s just an amazing way to end our careers.”

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Founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart, SHS is a Catholic, independent, co-ed day school for students in preschool through grade 12