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2013-14 Foothill League Girls Soccer Preview

Improved teams could challenge league’s perennial powers

Posted: January 11, 2014 8:30 p.m.
Updated: January 11, 2014 8:30 p.m.

Hart's Sophia Cortes was an All-CIF selection in Southern Section Division II last season.

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By all appearances, the Foothill League looks to be a two-horse race with Hart and Valencia, on paper at least, the class of the league entering Foothill League play in 2014.

And a 1-0 preleague Valencia victory over Hart did little to separate the two ahead of their Jan. 24 league match.

But lurking in the shadows is a team that came out of nowhere in 2013 under head coach Derek Rusk — the Canyon Cowboys. And anyone who underestimates the league’s dark horse may find themselves severely disappointed.

Add on perennial power Saugus, recent upstart West Ranch and a Golden Valley team that got back one of the 2012’s top players in Samantha Jennings, and the Foothill League might just not play out as expected.

Valencia

The Vikings used a combination of stellar goalkeeping from Nicole Joseph, senior leadership from Lindsey Bos and All-Santa Clarita Valley Player of the Year Taylor Venegas, and excellent midfield play from a trio of then-juniors in Sammy Simon, Rebecca Harrison and Eryn Spencer to win last year’s Foothill League title in undefeated fashion.

This season, Joseph is even better, willing her team to a preleague victory over Hart in the championship game of the Hart Soccer Showcase in a 1-0 Vikings’ victory. Harrison returns as a potential Player of the Year candidate, and Simon hasn’t lost a step either.

The team has struggled with injuries during their 10-1-1 preleague season, most notably the loss of Spencer during the club season to an ACL injury that will require her to miss the entire high school year.

But among Valencia’s biggest strengths is depth at all levels of the program, and head coach Sean O’Connell hasn’t had much trouble finding underclassmen capable of stepping up at the varsity level.

“Hopefully we have a deep enough roster, because we’ve had to make use of our younger players — about three to four junior varsity call-ups per game actually. They’ve all been great, but some notables are central midfielder Jen Anderson, Kaylee Woodard on the wing and Dani Daymude on the wing,” O’Connell said.

A very talented Hart team will have its say this season, but if Valencia plays to its capabilities, the rest of the Foothill League will have a difficult time stopping this Vikings’ unit in 2014.

“You look at our record and you think we are completely healthy, but we’ve really been juggling people around all year,” O’Connell said. “I know it sounds cocky because we are off to a 10-1-1 start, but our best soccer is still ahead of us.”

Hart

Speaking of the Indians, Hart welcomes in first-year head coach Guilherme Mitrovich after the departure of Justin Lundin.

Mitrovich is the third head coach for Hart in three years, but so far, the growing pains appear to be at a minimum.

The Indians charged through their own Hart Soccer Showcase, not giving up a goal until their 1-0 championship match loss to Valencia in the closing minutes.

“We played. They beat us,” Mitrovich said. “They are in my opinion, the favorite. Maybe Hart and Canyon are running a little bit behind. This year is going to be different for everyone.”

With the return of Destinney Duron, who missed her entire junior season due to injury, and forward Jenny Chavez, Hart has one of the most potent attacking teams in the Foothill League.

Add to that defenders Laura Sega and Anna Sarno give Hart a strong anchor to the backline in front of goalkeepers Nicole Davis and Danielle Watermann.

Like Valencia, the midfield is strong as well, led by returning All CIF-SS Division II first teamer Sophia Cortes.

“The main thing is the girls are playing the way that I want them to play,” Mitrovich said. “It’s a possession game that’s very fast and they’re working hard.”

Canyon

There weren’t many people around the Foothill League that believed in Canyon last season — and boy did the Cowboys prove their skeptics wrong.

With head coach Derek Rusk taking over last year, the Cowboys stormed from fifth place in 2012 to third place and a second round CIF-Southern Section Division II playoff appearance in 2013.

And expectations among the Cowboys aren’t about to get any lower.

“We’re not concerned about what other people expect about us,” Rusk said. “We have very high expectations for ourselves and we’re trying to achieve our personal goals and team goals. Our goal is to win league — I think that we’re going to have to play to our ability each week and have that drive and determination game in and game out.”

With the league’s top goalkeeper returning in Meghan Kennedy, Canyon can never be counted out.

Kennedy missed almost all of the preleague season due to injury, but returned in the Cowboys’ 2-0 victory over Lancaster on Thursday and appears ready to go for Foothill League play.

The team welcomes back Sarah Cipperley, who sat out her junior season. Opponents also figure to see a heavy dose of speedy forward Vanessa Quintero up top.

Cipperley brings a slightly different style of play than departed defender Christina Watanabe, but with the added offense Rusk feels he’s filled the void quite well.

And offense is where Canyon looks to shine, with speed through the midfield with Kendall Bietsch and Kyla Danforth and the shiftiness of Quintero up top.

Add in newcomer Alyssa Aguilar at outside midfielder, who Rusk described as the most athletic freshman that Canyon has seen for some time in any sport, and it’s clear the Cowboys shouldn’t be taken lightly in 2014.

Saugus

It was a rough season for Saugus in 2013, going from 2012 league champions to fourth place and a first-round postseason exit.

Despite a plethora of talent, the Centurions saw their streak of three straight league titles snapped despite posting a remarkable 15-0-0 preleague record.

To turn things around, head coach Natalie Helgeson will turn to goalkeeper Maddie Hebert and utilize what might be the fastest group of forwards in the league with Avery Schulhofer and Leah Elridge.

“Their speed, as long as we can place the ball in the right spot, no one can keep up with them,” Helgeson said. “That was our struggle, how to play a good through ball. We’re extremely dangerous with our speed.”

For the first time in years, Saugus enters the league season as a decided underdog.

“I’d much rather be the underdog for sure,” Helgeson said. “Last year was very stressful going into the season 15-0. Everyone wants to beat you and we were their focus. Everyone is going to bring their A-game. I’m fine with people going ‘We can beat Saugus.’ Great group of hard working girls and we’ll prove them wrong. I don’t think our record speaks for how well we were playing.”

West Ranch

In 2011-12, head coach Jared White’s first season at the helm, the Wildcats raised expectations far beyond what the program had ever experienced before.

That season, the team reached as high as 33rd In the ESPN High School national winter soccer rankings, and won a CIF-Southern Section Division I wild-card game.

West Ranch struggled to duplicate that success last season, finishing in fifth place and out of the postseason, but is hoping 2014 is the year that success returns.

White is counting on a young team to mesh quickly with a solid group of veteran midfielders in Noelle Weber and Nicolette Marinello and forwards Taylor Ayers and Kayla Satterfield.

So far, things are looking up for the Wildcats, who picked up a big win over Flintridge Sacred Heart on their way to a second-place finish at the Los Tacos tournament.

West Ranch has already pitched eight shut outs this year, despite a backline that includes three players with little or no varsity experience in sophomore Kimy Leggat, junior Jessy Holen and senior Gianna Crimi. The trio will team with returning junior Dorna Ektafaie.

“I was very pleasantly surprised that the younger players, most on defense, I was a little nervous going with three new defenders on the backline,” White said. “But we have eight shutouts and we’re 8-3-3.”

Add back to the mix is goalkeeper Delaney Marbach, who is returning from injury and will likely split time early in league with Set Motamedi.

Golden Valley

The Grizzlies have spent that last few seasons undergoing a culture change, one that second-year head coach Adam Yassaman believes has finally come to fruition.

The team has already eclipsed the program record for wins in a season, sitting at 8-1-2 entering league play (the previous high was six wins).

And the return of Samantha Jehnings gives the Grizzlies a formidable threat to score and distribute at will.

“One of the biggest things she’s done is allowed the players around her to play their natural position,” Yassaman said. “Having a player like Sam who can control so much in the offensive third, I can allow other players to sink back into their natural spots.”

At the centerback position, Yassaman will rely heavily on Natalie Amara to work as a field general, organizing her teammates as she reads her opponent.

As for the culture, Yassaman said that as much as the players who are on the team says something about the strength of the program, the players who aren’t on the team might say even more.

“It’s part is a natural evolution,” Yassaman said. “We have a lot of talent that’s come in this year and these are girls that in the past would have played varsity and they’re on JV. We have six or seven girls, if they came four years ago, they’d be bumped up to varsity and be four-year players.”

In net, Jordan Burrow returns for the Grizzlies, and will be counted on to hold down some of the high-octane offensive threats around the league.

The Grizzlies ended their Foothill League winless drought two years ago, before struggling to a 0-8-2 record last season.

Yassaman is hopeful that this year, they’ll take the next step and set themselves up for a postseason berth.

“All it’s going to take is a couple wins or ties in league and we’ll be in a position to at least petition to make playoffs,” he said. “I’m happy we’re half way to where I think we could be.”

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