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Foothill League Girls Soccer Preview: Local teams set their sights on Saugus

The defending CIF-Southern Section Division II champs are the favorites in the Foothill League

Posted: January 10, 2010 9:55 p.m.
Updated: January 11, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Saugus co-captain Jamie Molacek is back to lead the Cents as they try to win the Foothill League after finishing third in 2009.

 
The target has been big, but it has never been this big.

Every year, one or two schools slide into the role of team-to-beat as the reigning Foothill League girls soccer champion.

But no one in the Santa Clarita Valley has ever had to play as the defending CIF-Southern Section Division II champion.

That mantle currently belongs to Saugus.

On March 6, 2009, the Centurions beat Harvard-Westlake 2-1 at Warren High School to win the Santa Clarita Valley’s first outright CIF-SS title in boys or girls soccer.

And with only three starters graduating, the path on paper appeared primed for a repeat.

But facing another grueling league season and with the departure of head coach Lisa Rollo, the Centurions know the road ahead has gotten longer.

“They are not machines,” said first-year head coach Natalie Helgeson. “The beautiful thing about the game of soccer is that anyone can beat anyone. The talent is there. We all know that. But do they want it?”

Helgeson was hired over the summer to take over the already-thriving program.

“I think there has been a lot of pressure not just on me, but the girls feel it too,” she said. “They just kind of expect it from themselves. When you win something like that, there is a big target on their back and they know that. They feel it with every game.”

Reigning CIF-SS Division II Defensive Player of the Year Jamie Molacek returns as a co-captain with CIF-SS Division II second-teamer Shasta Fisher.

“They play with so much heart and so much passion,” Helgeson said. “They are players that I would have loved to play with in my playing days.”

Gone from the starting lineup are CIF-SS Division II Offensive Player of the Year Erin Ortega, first-teamer Shannon Suarez and second-teamer Heather Pilch, as well as Amanda Hill.

Otherwise, the team remains intact.

Senior Colleen Ortega moved to sweeper this season and will play alongside Emily Relles to form the foundation for the Centurions’ defense, which lost junior Kaitlyn Hamersky to a broken collar bone in a 0-0 tie with Chaminade on Dec. 15.

Other returners include Jillian Allen, Brittanie Sakajian, Nicole Penick, Ysabelle Padron and Bianca Lorenz, who moved to the field from goalkeeper this season.

Senior Kelly Parker will take over between the posts.

“Being a soccer player my whole life, I know from experience that anyone can beat anyone on any given day,” Helgeson said. “There is a lot of rivalry that comes along with these girls.”

Saugus can expect a formidable challenge from defending Foothill League co-champions Canyon and Valencia.

This season’s Canyon squad features a much different look as the team restructures following the graduation of its starting defense, a unit that included Jessica Luevano, Shannon Seidenglanz, Kathryn Hanson and co-Foothill League Player of the Year Milan Cabrera.

“The girls are kind of starting to see what they can do,” said Cowboys head coach Eric White. “In the beginning, we were struggling with trying to play the same style as last year, which isn’t going to happen because we lost our entire staring defense and starting center mid.”

Kristina Watanabe will take over the sweeper for the departed Cabrera.

“To step in for Milan, I wouldn’t wish that upon anybody,” White said.

Kim Perez, the only returning varsity defender, will also play central defense, flanked by Holly Gloudemans and Ashley Watanabe.

The Cowboys field a platoon goalkeeping approach with seniors Alex Krall and Kristin Grunhold.

At the beginning of the season, Canyon also returned Devon Goff and Elvia Contreras, the leading scorer from last year.

After scoring two goals and an assist in the season opener against Quartz Hill, Contreras suffered a broken fibula and is out for the season.

The team continues to look for a consistent scoring source.

However, Malaya Cabrera has scored five goals since picking up more offensive responsibility.

White also said that Jill Russ, Katie Dillon, Ashley Watanabe and Marina Gonzalez have also begun to play a bigger role on offense, and have helped drive the team to a 10-1-4 record and a Hart Tournament championship.

“This year’s team is much more willing to do absolutely whatever it takes,” White said.

Valencia found itself in a similar situation, replacing a host of talent.

Goalkeeper Christianne Cordero, striker Kelly Deckers, defender Kylie Trammell, midfielder Aly Drake, defender/midfielder Alyssa Morse and striker/midfielder Sarah Tuffey all graduated, while sweeper Tiffany Geer transferred to northern California.

A freshman last season, Geer’s clutch play preserved a 0-0 tie with Canyon in the season finale leading to the co-championship.

“Last year’s team had some great talent and we ended up getting our first Foothill League co-championship with Canyon,” said Vikings head coach Sean O’Connell. “But this year’s team has a lot of seniors as well. We’ve got about eight seniors on this year’s team.  A lot of good leadership.”

That group includes last season’s co-Foothill League Player of the Year Alyssa Triana, midfielder Hannah Hicks, defender Madi White, defender Amanda Pugliese, forward Nicolette Smith and forward Kristen Bos, who netted 14 goals last season.

Since recovering from multiple ACL injuries, Smith has seven goals and an assist this season, while Bos has six goals and six assists.

“We’ve got just a really cohesive unit,” O’Connell said. “We are playing really good soccer.”

A big reason for that has been up-and-coming talents like Brittany Sayre, who has four goals, and goalkeeper Kaci McCain, who has five shutouts and a verbal commitment to Long Beach State as a junior.

Hicks and Emily Tuffey have three goals and four assists, Taylor Harrison has three goals and two assists and Haleigh O’Connell has three goals and one assist, further demonstrating the widespread potency of the Vikings’ attack.

Despite the league title and the talent to run at a repeat, Sean O’Connell said that Saugus is the team to beat.

“I think they definitely (have the target), and I’m happy to let them have it,” he said.

But Saugus, Canyon and Valencia aren’t the only teams in the mix.

Hart lost a series of close games and tied others on its way to a fourth-place league finish last season.

This year, the Indians are reloaded and looking to capitalize on their returning talent.

“We are all charged up and ready to go except for a couple of injuries,” said Indians head coach Mike Gomez.

Hart can expect a spark from returning standouts such as forward Katie Trevino and sweeper Megan Indermill.

Last year, Trevino led the Foothill League with 19 goals in the regular season, and this year she has teamed with Indermill to form a dangerous combination attacking the goal on set pieces.

However, it is Indermill’s defensive leadership that could really propel the Indians this season.

“I think we are going to be a very good defensive team with of course Megan Indermill leading everything back there,” Gomez said.

Joined by returner Kayla Kret and newcomers Ashley Heinzel and Vanessa Souisa, a transfer from West Ranch, Gomez has dubbed his back line the “fearsome foursome” because of its physicality and defensive prowess.

Behind them is Kayce Perkins, who is back for another year in goal to provide athleticism, instinct and experience.

Brittani Reddick will also give veteran leadership to new players such as Allie Leon, Karina Jones and Danica Morgan, all of whom have played key roles in helping the Indians to a 9-3-3 record and second-place finishes in both the Buena Tournament and Hart Tournament.

“It seems that when we play weak teams, we play to their level of play,” Gomez said. “When we play good teams like of course (Canyon) and Buena, we rise to the occasion. We just need to add more creativity. If we don’t add creativity and we are not consistent, then we are going to have a difficult task ahead of us.”

But don’t leave West Ranch out of the conversation.

With a 9-3-3 record, the Wildcats enter league play fresh off a third-place finish in the Pacifica Tournament.

“That was definitely a big change from last year,” said West Ranch head coach Cami Bangasser. “Last year we had 10 players over winter break. Half the team left over winter break. One of the big pushes that I made (this season) was to keep them playing and keep them going and in games so that there is no let down between preseason and league.”

Only a junior, West Ranch’s dynamic midfielder Amanda Dailor is back to try to push the Wildcats to the top of the league.

“She is definitely a leader,” Bangasser said. “She is the type of player who plays for not just herself, but for her team. She has the respect of not only her teammates, but a lot of the other coaches and players in the Foothill League.”

Joined in the attack by Regan Romero and aided by a stingy defense led by Kendall Moskal and strong goalkeeping of Tina Hedwall, Bangasser said the key to her team’s success in league is for the team to believe that it belongs.

“For us, a lot of it is mental,” she said. “We come in as underdogs. We are in a talented league. It’s hard not to be intimidated by teams like Saugus, Valencia and Hart. They are great athletes. They are great technically. I think my girls still do get a little intimidated in the back of the heads.”

Despite many graduation losses, Bangasser said the team’s chemistry is as strong as ever.

“The girls are excited,” she said. “I think they feel a lot more confident this time around. Just overall, there is just a much more stronger connection with these girls. They click well together.”

At 3-4-1 and with an influx of more young talent, Golden Valley is also looking to assert itself.

“This team that we have right now is completely different from last year,” said Grizzlies head coach Jose Leon. “There is a big difference. I don’t expect 8-0 or 10-0 (losses) like last year.”

Returners such as Rachel Hoeft, Lauren Bermudez and senior captains Jackee Sanchez, Natalie Lagunas and Serafina Scarcello will try to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Thanks to those players and Joanna Lagunas this season, Leon said that his team has begun to find its scoring edge.

“Right now we have people that can actually score,” he said. “I’m just hoping that this will continue.”

If it does, Leon said that it will put more of a spotlight on the young program, which is essential to its growth.

“If you have one year with talent, you will have more players come through,” he said.

A former head coach at Hart, Leon has seen the kind of talent that it takes to build a program.

He has also seen it spread out across the valley.

“I don’t think there is a team that is not able to really go and participate,” Leon said.

Regardless, the road to a Foothill League title must first go through Saugus.

And perhaps even another CIF-SS Division II championship.

“There is no doubt in my mind we can do it,” Helgeson said. “There is no doubt we can take it again.”

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