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BULLETIN: Sept. 16, 2021 — The end is nigh for one of the all-time winningest field hockey coaches

In the gloaming of a football stadium in the Tierrasanta neighborhood of San Diego, the markings on the competition surface still say “Serra,” with a large caricature of a conquistador, painted in brown and gold. This contrasts with the fact that the home team’s field hockey uniforms are trimmed in black and red, representing the renamed Rattlers of San Diego Canyon Hills (Calif.).

With a whistle and a whoop from visiting Poway (Calif.), Canyon Hills dropped its opening round match of the CIF San Diego Section Tournament.

What this also does is end the career of Canyon Hills head coach Laurie Berger, a true coaching legend in the sport. Berger has labored on the left coast for decades, winning 878 games and 17 sectional championships.

She has also helped promote the sport with a unique in-season tournament, the Canyon Hills/Serra Tournament. It is unique in that the competition is held over two consecutive weekends, with teams obligated to play three games in a day. The first weekend is group play with four teams in four groups each. The following weekend is knockout play, with the top two teams in each group filling out an eight-team bracket for a champion.

Nowhere in the rest of the U.S. field hockey calendar does such a tournament exist.

The winner of the Canyon Hills/Serra Tournament is usually the team that becomes the favorite to win the postseason, whether it is one sectional tournament, two (as it was for a few years), or the current three-bracket system, with an Open, Division I, and Division II tournament.

Canyon Hills lost the 2021 tournament to neighboring San Diego Scripps Ranch (Calif.) by a 1-0 score, so Berger had to know that her team would have to extend itself in order to improve and make a deep run in this week’s tournament.

But in this year of change, one which saw a name change for the school and a shortened winter/spring field hockey season, it’s perhaps fitting that an unexpected challenger came out ahead on this evening.

Berger says she’ll still have her hand in the game, running the Canyon Hills/Serra Invitational after her retirement as coach.

“No one knows how to run my tournament,” she tells The San Diego Union-Tribune. “I just want people to know we have a good program and there was not just something in the water in Tierrasanta. The girls worked really hard to make this all happen.”

Truer words were never spoken. From Team USA’s Kris Fillat to Cal-Berkeley star Megan Rodgers, Berger has helped develop a number of tremendous players over the years. And she has fielded tremendous teams, which has sparked other teams in San Diego County to raise their game.

That, I think, is Laurie Berger’s greatest influence. Without Serra’s excellence, you wouldn’t have the current three-prong rivalry of Canyon Hills, Scripps Ranch, and San Diego Torrey Pines (Calif.). Without Berger, you might not have seen the purple patch of form that Escondido San Pasqual (Calif.) had in the 1990s. Without the program pushing the boundaries, you wouldn’t have seen new teams make an impact like San Diego Canyon Crest Academy (Calif.).

And you might not have seen a sleeper team like Poway come through like it did tonight.

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