No Alyssa Thompson, no problem: Harvard-Westlake girls soccer is back in CIF final

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Former Harvard-Westlake girls soccer player Alyssa Thompson grabbed a lot of attention her sophomore year when she led the Wolverines to a CIF Southern Section Division 1 title and CIF State SoCal Regional crown in 2021. The precocious soccer star was so focused on international play, it kept her from high school competition her junior season.

In the past four months, Thompson’s superstardom has grown to unprecedented heights – at least locally – when she earned her first United States women’s national team appearance as a 17-year-old high school senior in October. Then in January, she became the No. 1 overall pick in the National Women’s Soccer League draft (Angel City FC).

How Alyssa Thompson’s U.S. women’s soccer dreams became a reality at 17

Thompson left prep soccer, but what remains is a more than capable Harvard-Westlake team that’s headed to the CIF Southern Section Division 2 championships to play Hart (15-3-2) on Friday at 5 p.m. at College of the Canyons.

“I have to say, this is one of the most rewarding seasons I’ve ever had,” coach Richard Simms said. “And I’ve been at Harvard Westlake for a long time.”

Harvard-Westlake will be making its eighth all-time CIF finals appearance and eyeing the program’s fourth CIF title.

The Wolverines (15-5-3) have leaned on its young talent throughout this season. Seven underclassmen are in the starting lineup, and more freshmen come off the bench. A freshman scored the game-winning goal in the CIF-SS quarterfinals and another freshman scored the game-winner in the semifinals.

Sophomore Victoria Pugh, who led the Wolverines in scoring throughout the regular season, remains a critical piece of the team during the playoffs. Simms said her quickness and power make her valuable in the penalty area, but her attitude is one of her best characteristics.

“Vicky doesn’t care if she scores or not. She just wants to contribute to the team and help the team win,” he said. “When your leading goal scorer has that type of attitude and personality, it bleeds into the rest of the team.”

Senior center back Alex Astalos has risen in the playoffs. She scored just two goals in the regular season, then went on to score three goals in four playoff games.

“I think more than anything she’s putting herself in the right positions and she’s just really rising to the occasion,” Simms said. “Its not just goal contributions. She’s playing great defense, she’s leading the team, she’s just doing a lot of amazing things.”

Astalos made the game-winning penalty kick against Flintridge Prep in the second round, a match Harvard-Westlake had just one day to prepare for. The Wolverines had evened the score with minutes remaining in the game to force overtime, then penalty kicks.

That’s just a handful of the challenges that the playoffs presented this season. The championship game will be the Wolverines’ third road game of the playoffs and their quarterfinal match against Vista Murrieta featured cold weather and a 10-minute hail delay.

“That’s the stuff you should look forward to as an athlete,” Simms said, “because that’s when you find out a lot about yourself. (Overcoming adversity) is definitely a learned skill. It is not random or luck that this group of people is thriving in those situations.”

Harvard-Westlake, the Mission League champions, will have another road game when it travels to Santa Clarita to play Hart, which went unbeaten in the Foothill League and has only lost three matches this season. All challenges that are welcomed by the Wolverines.

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