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Pilch stops opponents on defense and Suarez gets it going on offense

Posted: March 6, 2009 1:28 a.m.
Updated: March 6, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Heather Pilch is playing for a CIF-Southern Section Division II title tonight.

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For more than a decade, Heather Pilch and Shannon Suarez have been lacing up their cleats and stepping onto the soccer field together.

But they have never reached the level they attained this season.

On Friday night at Warren High School, Pilch and Suarez will look to finish their quest for a CIF-Southern Section Division II championship when the longtime friends lead Saugus girls soccer into the title game against Harvard-Westlake.

“We’re all so excited that we’ve gotten this far,” Suarez says. “We all know that we’re going to do whatever it takes to win the championship.”

After finishing third in the Foothill League, Saugus stormed into the playoffs with an 8-1 blowout of Highland in the first round before scoring 1-0 victories over South Hills and Crescenta Valley and a semifinal 2-1 victory over Redlands to become the first Saugus girls soccer team in school history to reach the title game.

“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” Pilch says. “Every player on this team has the drive to win, which helps us mesh so well together.”

The bonds the Centurions have developed off the field have also been instrumental to Saugus’ success.

Pilch, one of the best defenders in the Foothill League, and Suarez, a midfielder who has tallied seven goals this season, both see their relationship as a key to Saugus’ run to the finals.

“Shannon inspires me to try to be a better soccer player,” Pilch says. “We’re such good friends, and I really love her. I think our friendship helps us play better together. We have a lot of speed, Shannon especially, so being able to know what each other is going to do is big.”

Saugus head coach Lisa Rollo also points to the close-knit nature of the Cents as a major factor in Saugus’ evolution from a third-place team to a potential champion.

“Sometimes I almost worry that they are having too much fun out there,” Rollo says. “But we have great chemistry. Everyone is comfortable playing their game, and every girl respects all of her teammates and enjoys playing with this team.”

The Cents’ camaraderie stems from its senior quartet, featuring captains Erin Ortega and Pilch.

“The seniors on this team have shown the underclassmen how to play the game the right way,” Rollo says. “Also, they’ve said that this is their last chance so that makes everyone want this title even more because their such a close group. We all want these girls to go out winners so that makes it easier to keep our eyes on the prize.”

One prize Pilch and Suarez also strive for is moving to the next level of the video game “Rock Band,” one of their favorite pastimes.

“We’ve been friends for such a long time,” Suarez said. “We just hang out and watch movies or play ‘Rock Band.’ It’s just normal stuff, but I think it’s given us a closeness that has translated into a passion on the field that pushes us to want to win even more.”

Pilch and Suarez both serve as leaders for the Centurions, but their ways of showing their leadership skill are as different as the positions they play.

“Heather drives our defense, and she knows where everyone is and what needs to be done,” Rollo says. “She tells our forwards what needs to be done, and she always has our team’s best interests at heart. Shannon leads more with her play. Her ball skills and footwork do the talking.”

Saugus is hoping Suarez’s feet speak up against Harvard-Westlake, and the Cents know defense will be critical to winning the title.

“Our defense has the ability to get the ball out and to our forwards, and we’ve been able to do that in the playoffs,” Pilch says. “We know each game could be our last so we have to play our hardest. I think our team is amazing.”

When the Centurions’ season comes to a close, so will Pilch’s and Suarez’s time together on the soccer field. Suarez has committed to play soccer at Long Beach State, while Pilch has narrowed her options to three schools, but Long Beach State isn’t on the list because she wants to attend a school with a physical-therapy program.

“I’ll miss playing with all the girls,” Pilch says. “I love them all. I hope next year I get a chance to see Shannon play, and she can come and see me too.”

Regardless of the outcome of Friday’s championship game, the Centurions will walk off the field with lifelong memories and friendships.

“When I look back on this team in 10 or 15 years, I’ll think of the drive and passion these girls have,” Rollo says. “They never stopped, and a lot of that came from girls like Heather and Shannon. It’s great to see them come into this program as 14-year-old girls and leave young women.”

kdamore@the-signal.com

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