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Boys soccer preview: The race to prevent 4

Canyon has competition as it races toward another title

Posted: January 7, 2011 10:17 p.m.
Updated: January 7, 2011 10:17 p.m.

Valencia’s Ben Beilin, a returning All-SCV first-teamer, has helped the Vikings get off to a great start in 2010-11.

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Canyon boys soccer head coach Khris Savage couldn’t wait to get started on the 2010-11 season.

Easy for him to say. His team has won the Foothill League title the last three years.

And despite the loss of 22 players from last year, it appears Canyon is still the team to gun for given the non-league results.

Just days after the Cowboys lost in the CIF-Southern Section Division III semifinal round last year, Savage began his work on a potential fourth straight league title.

Canyon was eliminated by eventual champion Paramount, and Savage said he wasted no time calling up Paramount coaches to schedule a rematch for the beginning of this season.

The rematch was scheduled, and the Cowboys played to a 1-1 tie early last month.

It’s all part of Savage’s plan to have his three-time defending league champions as prepared as possible by playing the toughest competition possible.

He wants to be prepared, not just for the rest of the Foothill League, but for the postseason.

“We’re going to plan on making it to the playoffs,” Savage said. “We’re going to work our tails off to get there.”

At 5-2-4, the work is already beginning to pay off, and voters have taken notice, ranking Canyon at No. 9 in the latest CIF-SS Div. III poll.

Of the three returning starters, seniors Mohammed Roknipour and Jordan Markovich will represent the bulk of the offensive force for Canyon.

The Cowboys are replacing five starters who were defensive contributors last year, including goalkeeper Andrew Wilson, last season’s All-Santa Clarita Valley Player of the Year.

Wilson’s replacement, junior Robert McCampbell, has filled in well, Savage said, as has defensive midfielder Erick Valencia.

Seniors Brenden Mellady and Jonathan Aiken have also proven themselves as worthy on a defensive-minded Canyon team.

“In the Foothill League, it comes down to one goal a lot of times,” Savage said of the emphasis on defense.
It literally did come down to one goal last season.

With the league title on the line in the second to last game of the season, Valencia and Canyon tied 0-0, giving Canyon the edge due to a victory over the Vikings earlier in the season.

But Valencia head coach Tony Scalercio isn’t just worried about the defending champions.

“They’re going to be the team that everyone is going to try to beat,” he said of Canyon. “But I’m not going into this season, no one is going into the season underestimating anyone.”

After finishing second in the standings last year, Valencia returns all but four players to the roster this year, 12 of which are seniors.

Four year varsity players Aubrey Gierard, Ben Beilin and Renato Sanchez will lead the senior class this season.

“I’m happy with the work rate and the discipline,” Scalercio said. “We’ve started off well and the goal isn’t to peak during preseason. The goal is to peak during league.”

The biggest question mark for Valencia comes at the goalkeeper position, where it will have to replace an All-SCV first teamer Alex McIntyre.

But so far, the Vikings haven’t hit many bumps in the road, sitting at 10-2 after winning the San Gabriel Valley Tournament. It marked the first tournament victory in program history.

Valencia also beat Saugus 1-0 in the Hart Tournament two weeks ago.

To be fair, neither team was playing its full roster.

Regardless, it’s been an up-and-down non-league season for the Centurions.

“When we’re on, we seem to be doing just fine,” said Saugus head coach Seth Groller. “But with people out with injuries and some guys out of town, that’s been tough for us.”

Unlike Valencia, the Centurions return just four players to a roster of 19.

The losses of midfielder Manny Padron, who now plays at College of the Canyons, and sweeper Chris Allen are most notable.

The young squad heads into league play at 5-7-1, but the team has had stretches of impressive play along the way.
Injuries have forced some shuffling in the defensive lineup, but Groller said as long as the team can keep the ball on the ground and avoid panicking, the Centurions should be just fine.

The additions of sophomore midfielder Brian Perez and former forward Austen Scheff, who was shifted to defense this year, could be the difference on a relatively inexperienced team.

They’ll supplement the slate of senior returners in forward Joey Rodriguez and midfielder Cameron Sikich.

Another team familiar with injury problems is West Ranch, which struggled to stay healthy last year and wound up as the league’s fourth-place finisher.

So far, the Wildcats have stayed healthy this season on their way to a 4-3-3 record, but head coach Mo Burgess doesn’t want to speculate on his team before the “real” season begins.

“You can say, ‘We looked good in practice. We looked good against so and so.’ But until you get on the field with Canyon or Valencia or Hart, or whoever else, you never know,” Burgess said.

If it is going to improve on its finish from last season, West Ranch will have to count on players like sophomore call-up and defender Josh Torres filling in for the loss of 13 players to graduation.

Third-year varsity player Jacob Jordan returns to action this year after breaking his arm just before the start of league play last year.

Senior midfielder and team captain Ashton Kolander is also expected to make an impact.

“It’s pretty cut and dry this year, there’s not much magic to it,” Burgess said. “When they play well, they do well.”
Burgess said he doesn’t expect any flukes this year. West Ranch will end up exactly where it should — the question is where that may be?

Where that was for Golden Valley was disappointing last year.

The Grizzlies finished in fifth place despite high hopes coming into the season. But Phil Lopez said the team hasn’t truly been showcased yet this year.

For that reason, he isn’t putting much stock in the 5-7 record to start the season.

On the bright side, 12 seniors return to the team this year, making Golden Valley one of the most experienced squads in the league.

The rough offseason can partly be attributed to the absence of senior midfielder Juan Trejo, who missed the past eight games while visiting his family in Mexico.

Sophomore Josh Torres was moved to midfielder after playing forward earlier in the year, and has since led the team in assists.

Junior defender Guy Meyers has also surprised Lopez in his first year on varsity.

“Now there’s no excuses. We’ve got everybody back,” Lopez said. “We’ve got a stronger front line now that Josh is moved to the middle. We’ve got the tools, now we’ve just got to go out and use them.”

Another one of those tools is senior Juan Cardenas, a third-year starter and a key element to the Grizzlies’ defense.

Though Golden Valley will have to replace offensive force Eduardo Barragan, Lopez said there’s no time for self-pity this season.

“It’s just time for the boys to step up,” he said.

It seems just about any team has the capability of making a surprise push toward the top of the league.

Hart, for instance, comes into Tuesday’s opener against Canyon with a 7-3-2 record after finishing last season 6-17-1 overall.

“Because of what we did last year, or the lack of it, we’re coming in trying to rebuild the whole thing,” said Hart head coach Fausto Arana. “Right now, our expectations are trying to play better than last year.”

Part of the turnaround can be attributed to voluntary workouts that most of the team showed up for this past summer, Arana said.

That includes midfielder Cody Seybold and most of the other eight returning seniors, as well as returning starter Sammy Reyes. The junior midfielder/forward was an All-SCV second-teamer as a sophomore.

Hart, which has already beaten Saugus 1-0 earlier this season, will also be helped by senior midfielders Andrew Trejo and Uriel Rodriguez, who are both new to the team.

The common sentiment around the league is that there is no clear favorite, despite what the CIF polls indicate.
“It’s nothing that we need to concern ourselves with,” Savage said of the rankings. “We just need to go out and win soccer games.”

Each team has talent and each team has different issues to deal with, whether that’s injuries, graduation of key players or a general attitude adjustment.

The question will be: Which team will react to those issues the best.

And the answer will start to unfold on Tuesday.

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