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The last team standing

With no clear-cut favorite, the 2009 league season will be a survival of the fittest

Posted: January 10, 2009 9:15 p.m.
Updated: January 11, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Talk to any coach and they will tell you the same thing.

Whoever finishes as the league champions will have been the last team standing.

Valencia head coach Sean O'Connell said it best.

"Not only (will league play be) a battle of skill, but a battle of attrition," he said.

O'Connell will also tell you that the Foothill League belongs with California's best, including teams from the Marmonte League, Orange County and Temecula.

Reigning league champion Saugus (8-1-3) will face a tough road against the likes of Canyon (9-3-1), Hart (9-4-1), Valencia (8-5-1), and a dangerous West Ranch team (4-4-3).

Add Jose Leon's return to the league with Golden Valley, and you have six teams that could beat each other on any given day.

Despite graduating nine seniors last year, including league Most Valuable Player Brielle Slepicoff, goalkeeper Marina Constantinou, sweeper Jamie Havelin and outside midfielder Aneet Bhogal, the Centurions are ready to repeat.

"We are improving with every game," said Saugus head coach Lisa Rollo. "We haven't peaked yet. (The team is) very united off the field, which makes them play really well on the field."

Captains Erin Ortega, Jamie Molacek, Shasta Fisher and Shannon Suarez will lead a very offensive-minded team who has already seen tremendous success.

On Dec. 6, it defeated Flintridge Sacred Heart of La Canada in the Westlake Showcase by a score of 4-0, then shut out league rival Hart 5-0 in the final of the Buena Tournament on Dec. 22.

The wins came without senior sweeper Heather Pilch who has missed nine games with a pulled hamstring. However, Rollo said Pilch has been at practices and on the sideline of games cheering the team on and doing whatever she can, a testament to the team's growing unity.

With the win over the Indians, the league rivalry started early.

Mike Gomez may be in his first year as head coach of the Indians, but he is no stranger to the Foothill League, having coached the Saugus junior varsity program and within club soccer.

"My transition from Saugus to Hart began with some bumps and bruises but as the players became more familiar with my style of coaching and became a bit more comfortable with the formation I like to run, which is different from what they played in previous years, things have begun to click," Gomez said.

In fact, things have clicked to the tune of 32 goals in preseason - 12 coming by way of sophomore striker Katie Trevino.

The young scoring threat will take over for one of the most notable players to come through the Foothill League - Sarina Coutin.

When it comes to Trevino, Gomez's message was simple.
"I expect big things from her," he said.

Other key losses include Meghan Dean, Gabby Leon, Lindsay Mills and Namiko Uno.

However, Hart has the talent to move forward without the eight total seniors that graduated from last season's team.

Senior Allison Carivau - a four-year varsity player - finished the preseason with nine goals and four assists and was named the Most Valuable Player of the Buena Tournament.

Kayce Perkins returns to take up her position in goal and will be protected by a corps of defenders that includes Megan Indermill, Aimee Page, Kayla Kret and Kayte Bataille.

Also keep an eye on Brittani Reddick who could be a scoring force next to Trevino up front.

Out for the Indians are Jessica White, the team's senior center midfielder, who tore her ACL early in preseason and Elizabeth Uno, ailed by the same injury.

Yet Gomez's outlook is positive.

"Most of the girls are really gelling," Gomez said. "One of the things that I am most excited about is that the preseason gave us the opportunity to put players in different areas. We finally found positions that the girls fit in."

One early opportunity came against Valencia in the semifinals of the Buena Tournament, whom Hart had to get through in order to play Saugus in the finals.

In his fourth year at the helm for the Vikings, O'Connell believes he has the depth and talent for a championship run.

He's got the personnel to do it.

Valencia only graduated two players from its 2008 campaign, returning the dynamic senior trifecta of four-year varsity players Aly Drake, Alyssa Morse and Kylie Trammel - all captains.

"We've got a lot of talent and a lot of technical skill and soccer IQ," O'Connell said. "We are a very complete team talent-wise at all positions."

The Vikings carry 20 players on their roster this season, up from the 16 on last year's team.

O'Connell believes that the lack depth resulted in their decline at the end of the season, noting that the team may have been stretched too thin.

With the exception of graduates Jessica Change and Makayla Hambek, Valencia will look eerily similar to 2008 playing with the same intensity that led to a 14-4-4 overall record.

Junior Alyssa Triana rounds out the team's captains and will serve as a "bridge from year to the next season," according to O'Connell.

Also watch out for sophomore Kristen Bos, who has scored 11 goals in pre-league action, including a hat-trick against Ventura on Dec. 12, leading the way for a team that has put 40 balls to the back of the net so far this year.

This is a team that can post goals in a hurry.

Just ask Kennedy of Grenada Hills and Golden Valley who, on Dec. 26, the Vikings beat by scores of 10-0 and 7-0, respectively, in the Hart Showcase Tournament.

They will get things going right off the bat, opening up the league season against Saugus on Jan. 13.

Saugus, Hart and Valencia were not the only Foothill League representatives in the always-tough Buena Tournament.

Both Canyon and West Ranch recorded wins in the event.
Canyon, led by another first-year coach, Eric White, comes into league play boasting a lot of early success.

Knowing how difficult the coming weeks will be, White knows that the pre-league wins don't matter.

"I'd be willing bet the league champ will have two losses," White said, noting that his team has hit a scoring drought of late.

Canyon graduated eight players, including Courtney Belsheim, Jessica Tondreau, Katie Russ, Molly Hall and Dee Clegg, but will have many familiar faces.

Four of Canyon's returners are defenders - Milan Cabrera, Jessica Leuvano, Shannon Seidenglanz and Catherine Hanson, all seniors.

"When we play well it is because we are playing really solid defense," White said.

Malaya Cabrera and Kaylee Kirk also return this season while Beth Barker and Devon Goff have been pulled up from junior varsity.

Given his short time with the team and the turnover in his roster, White refers to his squad as a "mystery team" to the rest of the league.

They will start things off against West Ranch.

Coincidentally, both teams lost to Santa Ynez in the Buena Tournament.

The Wildcats' coach is also in her first year.

Cammy Bangasser takes over a program making progress.

Described by Bangasser as a team with "a lot of speed," the emphasis early in the season has been on breaking bad habits and adjusting to a new coach.

Having graduated five seniors from last season including Gina Tumasone and Seana Fenske, West Ranch will be led by sophomore Amanda Dailor.

Dailor is a "leader on and off the field," according to Bangasser.

Danika Weber, Kylee MacArthur, Kristi Jacoby and Kendall Moskal will all be players to watch for in 2009.

"Our strengths are our speed our passing and our vision," Bangasser said. "It is my hope that that our work ethic and competitive drive carries over to league."

Rounding out the Foothill League is Golden Valley.

Referred to by Leon as a "young team," the Grizzlies will be led by freshmen Sasha Malone, Rachel Hoeft and Lauren Bermudez and sophomore Lauren Hackney, all identified by the coach as players to watch.

"We are just going to take it a day at a time, a game at a time," Leon says.

Golden Valley comes into league play winless, but will gain the necessary experience to make the young corps of players dangerous in the coming seasons.

With so talent and competition, it is impossible to tell who will come out on top.

League play begins Jan. 13.

If O'Connell is right, and the winner is truly the last team standing, then all six teams are in for a tough road ahead.

"You don't win league," O'Connell said. "You survive league."


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