Sophomore Mariana Kessinger scored three times and the Palo Alto girls soccer team ended a six-game winless streak Wednesday, beating visiting Saratoga 3-0 in a Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division contest.
Senior Anna Tomz and junior Sarah Kim each recorded an assist and senior goalkeeper Mikayla Rimsa recorded the victory in the net for the Vikings (3-2-5, 1-1-1), who travel to play Homestead at 3:30 p.m. Friday. Homestead lost 6-0 to Los Gatos, the lone unbeaten in league play, on Wednesday.
It's been a frustrating season for Palo Alto, which missed the Central Coast Section playoffs last year for the first time in seven seasons and won just three matches. Eleven seniors graduated from that squad and first-year coach Armando Luna was asked to rebuild the program.
After a promising start that included a big victory over Menlo-Atherton and ties with Leland and St. Francis, all three teams who competed in last year's CCS Open Division, the Vikings hit a snag. They were 0-2-4 over their past six games, ending that streak with Wednesday's victory over Saratoga.
"We started strong when we had the whole team here," Luna said. "The (Christmas) break set us back. We were without some of our players and we struggled with some results."
Palo Alto's two losses are to defending CCS Division II champion Notre Dame Belmont and CCS Open Division participant Los Gatos. Those two schools are a combined 15-0-5.
Palo Alto has recorded five shutouts on the season, four have been scoreless draws. Of the first 10 games, nine have been against teams involved in last year's CCS postseason, four in the Open Division and two in Division I.
"The biggest difference today was we finished our chances," Luna said. "We're starting to play at a higher level again."
Palo Alto's possession game gave the Vikings far more chance to create scoring opportunities than trying to defend their goal, keeping the pressure on Saratoga, which often had to use nine and 10 players in back in an attempt to stifle Paly's advances.
Kessinger gave Palo Alto a 1-0 lead in the first half and then scored twice within the first eight minutes of the second half to take control.
Tomz brought the ball up along the right sideline and fired a perfect centering pass that set up Kessinger for her second goal. On her final goal, Kessinger took a throw-in from Kim, worked the ball into the center of the field and sent a high arching shot from 20 feet out that sailed just over the reach of the Saratoga goalie and into the net.
Isabella Jones sent a ball that somehow avoided going over the goal line and was saved by a terrific defensive effort.
Cassie Taleno-Dee was key to the victory with her ability to transition in the midfield. Other top players included Frida Rivero-Pinedo and Ali Zenger, among others.