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2013 Foothill League girls soccer preview: Saugus' Brenna Savoie and Alanna Shaw, Shifting places

A pair of Centurions has filled gaps lost to graduation and led Saugus to an undefeated start

Posted: January 7, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 7, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Saugus' Alanna Shaw, left, and Brenna Savoie, right, have stepped into new roles for the Centurions this season and are off to a stellar start.

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Saugus girls soccer is used to setting new benchmarks for the next year’s squad to eclipse.

In 2009, it was a CIF-Southern Section Division II championship.

In 2011, it was an undefeated Foothill League season.

Last year was the Centurions’ third straight league title.

And now, Saugus is off to its best start under fourth-year head coach Natalie Helgeson, sitting at 15-0-0 to open the season.

Accomplishing new heights is nothing new for Saugus — but for two players on the Centurions’ 2012-13 team, filling new roles has come with no shortage of pressure.

Last season, Saugus relied heavily on sweeper and All-SCV Player of the Year Serena Smith-Banas on defense, and forward and All-SCV First Teamer Stacey Atwater on offense.

With Smith-Banas at Texas Christian University and Atwater at College of the Canyons, Saugus has had to reload on the fly.

Cue Alana Shaw and Brenna Savoie.

Shaw, a junior, was sort of a jack-of-all-trades last season, moving around the field from defender to the midfield to an attacking forward.

“What it comes down to is you try to keep your best players on the field at all times,” Helgeson says. “They might not be playing the position they’re used to playing, but you keep them on the field.”

Now, Shaw has taken over the sweeper position and has provided Saugus with a skilled, technically sound player in the back, with the attacking mindset to help feed Saugus’ forwards up top.

“It’s stressful. She has a more difficult situation because (Smith-Banas) being Player of the Year and having been our starting sweeper for two years, Alana has a lot to live up to,” Helgeson says. “But I wouldn’t have put her there if I didn’t have faith she could do the job and do it well.”

Unlike Smith-Banas, who was very skilled at winning balls in the air and clearing them from the defensive zone, Shaw’s technical ability has allowed her to maintain possession longer and send through balls into the attacking zone.

“I wouldn’t have thought I would be playing sweeper and my role would be this big,” Shaw says. “I never would have thought that would be me. But I’m actually glad that can be me.”

One of the forwards benefiting from Shaw’s style of play is Savoie, who has thrived in her new role for the Centurions despite coming days away from not joining the team.

The senior decided to forego her final season of high school soccer to focus instead on other endeavors before graduation.

“I’ve been playing soccer since I was 4 and I felt I needed to explore more things before high school ended,” Savoie says. “But I realized soccer is where my heart is and I wanted to stick to that.”

But simply returning to the program, and replacing Atwater’s production (16 goals and five assists despite missing the final six games of the regular season) are two very different tasks.

“It was a lot of pressure, not from other people, but pressure I put on myself, because I feel like she set such high expectations,” Savoie says. “And coming in as a senior forward I felt I had to fill her shoes.”

So far, Savoie has filled right in, tallying 15 points on six goals and four assists entering Tuesday’s Foothill League opener against Valencia.

“She realized this is for her, she can make an impact and help the team out,” Atwater says. “She’s definitely doing that.”

Just because Shaw and Savoie have done a good job of hiding the pressure of replacing such prominent athletes, though, doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling it.

“We haven’t really discussed the stress level, but I’m really sure we probably are thinking the same thing,” Shaw says of her and Savoie. “We’re probably both under a lot of stress. But we can handle it. We can definitely handle it.”

Despite playing nowhere near each other on the field, each is continually making the transition easier on the other.

Shaw’s experience as an attacking player has helped Saugus transition from defense to offense quickly, creating more room and better angles for Savoie up top.

Likewise, Savoie’s offensive success and ability to create chances for herself and others has taken pressure off Shaw and the rest of the Centurions’ defense — a defense that has allowed just six goals all season.

“When she gets the ball she knows the perfect ball,” Savoie says of Shaw. “She used to be an offensive player so she knows what kind of balls an offensive player would like to be given. So when she gets the ball back there, she distributes the ball to us forwards. It’s so much easier … when the ball is perfectly given through. It helps so much.”

Both Shaw and Savoie have come a long way this season, but the pressure isn’t about to subside anytime soon.

At Saugus, the goals and pressure that come along with them are immense.

“Anyone who plays for Saugus, we want to win. We always want to win league titles and the pressure when league comes, there’s a lot of pressure to win,” Shaw says.

So far, things are looking up.

Saugus is undefeated and coming off victories at the Buena and Los Tacos tournaments and holds a No. 1 state ranking in Maxpreps.com’s high school soccer winter rankings.

“In the finals we played Oaks Christian and Sacred Heart and they were pretty tough teams,” Shaw says. “I believe if we come in every league game with how we did — with that type of intensity. I believe we’ll win and nobody can beat us.”

How far Saugus goes this season remains to be seen; but it’s clear the Centurions have found answers for the departed Smith-Banas and Atwater, and those solutions are off to stellar starts.

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