The Scotts Valley High girls’ lacrosse team’s magical season came to an end in a 13-12, double overtime loss to Los Gatos High in the Central Coast Section playoff quarterfinals on May 14.
The No. 6 seed Falcons finished the 2022 season with a 14-2 record, surpassing all expectations for what was the program’s first full season.
Scotts Valley started girls’ lacrosse in 2020 but never saw game action due to Covid. Last year, the Falcons played a limited schedule consisting of 8-on-8 games, all within Santa Cruz County.
This season was their coming out party, so to speak, and did they ever deliver.
Not only did Scotts Valley earn a share of the Pacific Coast Athletic League championship, it dominated Gunn High for its first CCS playoff victory and gave No. 3 seed Los Gatos all it could handle.
In fact, the Falcons held the lead for a larger portion of the game and were seemingly on their way to victory after taking a 12-10 lead with 7 minutes, 55 seconds left in regulation.
However, the Wildcats forced overtime with two goals to end the second half, the last coming with 1:18 remaining. The first overtime—a 3-minute sudden death period—resulted in the Falcons nearly ending things with a couple of shots on goal from close range.
But Los Gatos goalie Maddie Holloway made some tough saves, which led to a Wildcats counterattack that nearly resulted in a goal. It was Falcons goalie Olivia Tinetti’s turn to stand on her head as she came up with a terrific play to deflect the shot away.
Alas, the Wildcats’ Lucy Holland ended things in the second OT period, scoring from point-blank range with 1:39 to go. Despite a valiant effort, Scotts Valley saw its season come to an end.
“I was so proud of the girls for fighting for everything,” Falcons coach Colleen Niklaus said. “They really wanted the ball and for the majority of the game we were controlling the possession time. We couldn’t finish it off at the end, and part of it was because they were tired. But oh my gosh, they worked so hard and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Scotts Valley’s 14-player roster is exactly half the size of Los Gatos. But the Falcons’ Big Four of Sofia Niklaus, Siena Wong, Ellie Raffo and Taylor Santos—all premier talents who play club—were largely responsible for the team being able to impose its will on the Wildcats.
The freshmen sensation pair of Santos (five goals) and Niklaus (four goals) got whatever shot they wanted, while juniors Raffo (two goals) and Wong (one goal) likewise utilized their speed and athleticism to control the ball for long stretches.
In a riveting, back-and-forth contest, neither team led by more than three goals the entire way. There were five ties and six lead changes, with the key stretch coming at the start of the second half. Scotts Valley had a 7-5 lead only to see Los Gatos win the first several faceoffs.
That led to the Wildcats scoring five of the next six goals to take a 10-8 lead with 19:34 left in regulation. The Falcons came flying back—just like you knew they would—going on a 4-0 run themselves to retake the lead at 12-10. Los Gatos ended regulation with two goals to force overtime.
“It really changes when you don’t get the draw,” Colleen Niklaus said. “Right at the beginning of the second half we didn’t get them and the momentum shifted. But we still had opportunities to finish it, we didn’t and they obviously did.”
Santos and Niklaus often made strong runs and consistently drew penalties inside the 8-meter arc, where off a reset they would sprint to the Los Gatos goal and score from point-blank range. Raffo and Wong complemented them with pinpoint passes and being able to hold the possession after scooping up ground balls.
“Those four are dynamic and work so well together,” Niklaus said.
Tinetti, a second-year goalie, made several saves against a high-octane Los Gatos team.
“Olivia Tinetti got some money saves there,” Niklaus said. “Last year was her first year and we needed someone to play in goal. She said, ‘I’ll try it and then she loved it.’”
Even though the Falcons are powered by the Big Four and Tinetti, Niklaus said the team couldn’t have had the season it had without the likes of Livia Johnston, Emma Dyc-O’Neal, Gianna Mandujano, Emily Hulme, and sisters Payton and Skylar Dufour.
Hulme and Dyc-O’Neal are junior defenders who have proven to be reliable and durable. Skylar Dufour and Mandujano are soccer players who have made an immediate impact on the lacrosse team.
“Skylar is going to be really good as she gets more experience,” Niklaus said. “Emma O’Neal has been getting a lot of interceptions, and Livia Johnston makes great play after great play winning balls back for us and blocking the other players out.”
Niklaus appreciates the unselfish play of the team and how everyone encourages each other through good times and bad.
“They’re all just really great teammates,” she said. “Some teams yell at each other when someone does something wrong, but these girls are really nice, supportive and helpful. And I think that has really helped us with the season we had.
“I told the girls at the end that the newer players have developed dramatically over the season. They know their role, and luckily we had a lot of easier games so we could get them playing time, experience and touches. They run for every missed shot, they set picks and get turnovers. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Incredibly enough, Scotts Valley won’t graduate a single player off this year’s team, which features all freshmen and juniors with zero sophomores or seniors. Niklaus hinted the best is yet to come.
“We are someone to take seriously,” she said.
Of that, there is no doubt.