When the West Hills High School boys soccer team defeated Central Union High School by a score of 2-1 in the San Diego Section Division III championship game Feb. 23 at Mission Bay High School, it ended a long drought for Wolfpack head coach Russ Shubert.
“I’ve been at West Hills for 16 seasons now and this was our first CIF championship, it’s been a long time,” Shubert remarked in the afterglow of the history-making achievement.
Senior Rian Stiles scored both goals in the final for the Wolfpack, who finished the season with an overall 19-4-3 record following a 4-2 loss in a shootout tiebreaker at second-seeded Torrance West in the opening round of the Southern California regional playoffs on Feb. 26.
Torrance West went on to finish runner-up to top-seeded El Segundo in the regional championship game.
The Wolfpack was obviously not far off the mark after battling Torrance West to a scoreless draw through regulation and overtime.
Shubert said this year’s success came after the team had posted a tough but uncharacteristic 5-15-3 season in 2017-18.
“We were very young a season before and scheduled some very tough teams and took our lumps,” Shubert said. “We thought we’d learn but still get some wins. It didn’t quite work out but they all came back with awesome attitudes and got to work.”
That hard work paid off.
West Hills finished runner-up to El Cajon Valley in the Grossmont Valley League standings with a 7-2-1 record to earn the No. 10 seed in the Division III section playoffs.
The Wolfpack proved to be the bracket buster after recording wins against four higher-seeded teams.
West Hills defeated seventh-seeded Vista, 1-0, in the opening round, then knocked out second-seeded Southwest El Centro, 6-5, in a shootout tiebreaker.
The Wolfpack defeated third-seeded Sage Creek, 3-1, in the semifinals to meet eighth-seeded Central Union in the final.
A 2-0 win by Central Union over fifth-seeded Valhalla prevented this year’s Division III section championship game from being an all-East County final.
If there was a common thread to West Hills’ magical playoff run, it was that all the games were played off campus.
“All three playoff games were road games, with the final being at a neutral site,” explained Shubert, who guided Hilltop to the 1993 Division II championship title as the team’s technical director before taking the coaching job at West Hills. “We took a 2-0 lead into halftime of the final. We defended really well as a team, counter-attacked quickly. They scored with five minutes left off a corner kick but we stayed under control to see out the game.”
And collect the program’s first-ever CIF banner.