Breaking Through

Lily Gruber takes a corner kick.
Photos by Steve Galluzzo

Dolphins Score Twice in the Second Half to Stun El Camino Real, 2-1

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

She may be one of the smallest players on the field, but senior Sierra Clarke made the biggest plays for the Palisades High girls soccer team last Saturday against longtime nemesis El Camino Real  at Stadium by the Sea.

Ava Kerkorian (#8) and Kylie Greenwald celebrate moments after the final whistle ends last Saturday’s game against El Camino Real.

Clarke scored the tying goal—her first of the season—in the 50th minute and assisted on Izzy Gill’s game-winner eight minutes later as the host Dolphins rallied for a 2-1 victory, their first triumph over the Conquistadores in six seasons under Coach Christian Chambers.

“I saw her open and knew if I knocked it to the front of the goal, she’d be there,” Clarke said of her centering pass to a breaking Gill that gave her side its first  lead and sent teammates into euphoria. “I used to play left back but I moved to left forward this year. It gives opportunities to set up other players. I wasn’t used to it at first, but now I’m getting the hang of it.”  

Palisades was 0-4-2 head-to-head versus El Camino Real since Chambers took over the program in 2014-15, including a 2-1 loss in the City Section Division I  final two years ago, so Saturday’s result was as satisfying for him as it was for his elated players.

“The last 40 minutes was the best soccer I’ve seen you play all year,” Chambers told his team. “It shows you can play with anyone.”

El Camino Real dominated the first 20 minutes but goalkeeper Teah Jackson kept the visitors off the scoreboard. Hayley Villafane re-directed a pass from Natalia Puccio in the 34th minute to put the Conquistadores ahead 1-0,  but Palisades didn’t panic.

Sierra Clarke (left) runs to congratulate teammates Izzy Gill (center) and Julianna Navarro after assisting on the decisive goal midway through the second half against El Camino Real. The Dolphins won, 2-1.
Photos by Steve Galluzzo

The Dolphins (5-0) started to control play and create chances, as Clarke attacked up the wing while Julianna Navarro and Sadie Holt applied pressure through the middle thanks to forward runs by fellow captains Caroline Bremner and Ava Kerkorian.

Clarke’s goal came on a low shot to the far post just out of the reach of Conquistadores keeper Abby Lee and gave the Dolphins the belief they needed to finish the job. Gill snuck behind the defense and banged home an accurate feed from Clarke in the 58th minute to give the Dolphins a 2-1 lead,

“Sierra switched clubs about 18 months ago and they switched her to a left winger, which is good because we had Lily Gruber at left back already. You could see little pieces coming together and we’re also getting healthy.”

El Camino Real has been the gold standard in the City for over two decades, winning 14 upper division titles. The Conquistadores beat Palisades 3-1 last year on their way to the City finals, where they lost in a shootout to West Valley League rival Granada Hills.

Palisades defender Caroline Bremner clears the ball out of danger from El Camino Real forward Kiara Washington in last Saturday’s game. The Dolphins beat their nonleague rivals, 2-1.

Beating ECR (1-3-3) not only       kept the Dolphins undefeated, it helped their chances of earning a high seed in the playoffs, though Chambers refuses to look that far ahead. His only focus is Monday’s intersectional “Battle of the Beach” against Santa Monica.

“It’s more of a psychological thing,” he said. “I told the girls before the game if you want to win City you’re going to have to go through this team at some point. It’s definitely a confidence builder but doing it in the playoffs is a different matter altogether. We have to take care of business in league or this win won’t matter. I like the senior leadership of this group.”   

Palisades resumes Western League play next Wednesday at last-place Westchester.