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2013 Foothill League girls soccer preview: Valencia, Saugus have made their mark

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

Valencia senior captain Lindsay Bos leads a Valencia team that should be Saugus' biggest challenge in league play.

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Last year may not have played out quite like Saugus’ perfect 10-0 league run the previous season, but it sure ended in familiar fashion.

The Centurions dropped a game to Hart and tied Valencia, but still managed to pull out their third straight Foothill League title.

In 2012, Saugus again looks to be a title contender, but Valencia is nipping at its heels.

It won’t take long to find out if the Vikings can hang with Saugus, the two teams play to open Foothill League play on Tuesday.

And it should come as no surprise that in a league that features three first-year head coaches in Canyon’s Derek Rusk, Golden Valley’s Adam Yassaman and Hart’s Justin Lundin, and one second year coach in West Ranch’s Jared White, it’s eighth-year Valencia head coach Sean O’Connell and fourth-year Saugus head coach Natalie Helgeson that have their teams playing the best soccer.

“Continuity is a huge part of running a program,” O’Connell said. “When you have a program you’re running you can instill a philosophy with people.”

That’s not to say the rest of the league should be written off.

Golden Valley is coming off a season in which it earned its first Foothill League win, a 2-1 victory over Valencia. Canyon has enjoyed a solid preseason and Hart has improved with every game under Lundin and is on a six-game winning streak entering league play.

West Ranch, meanwhile, is looking to make it back to the postseason after earning a CIF-Southern Section wild card berth for the first time in program history last season.

But if the preleague season is any indication — the league’s attention will be on Saugus and Valencia until someone else steps up and steals the spotlight.

Saugus

The Centurions (15-0-0) have wasted no time silencing any critics.

The departure of All-Foothill League Player of the Year Serena Smith-Banas has appeared to have little effect on a Saugus team that has allowed just six goals and won both the Buena and Los Tacos tournaments during its preleague season.

“Saugus has always been a little bit doubted, I believe,” said Saugus sweeper Alana Shaw. “In a sense people think we’ve lost great players. We won’t be as good as how we were last year. But I believe we’re going to come back stronger than ever, and I like the fact that it’s almost like we’re better than ever.”

Shaw has played a pivotal role in the Centurions’ success this season.

With Smith-Banas graduating last spring, Shaw has moved into the sweeper position and excelled.

Offensively, Saugus looks to be the most dynamic team in the Foothill League, showcasing an ability to play at a high level in both a possession-style offense, as well as an attacking oriented game plan focused on through balls over the top to a speedy group of forwards.

“We’re not going to be known as a long ball team or a short passing possession team,” Helgeson said. “Your biggest opponent is going to be yourself. If you don’t come prepared and ready to go and adjust to who you’re playing you’re not going to win.”

In addition to Shaw maintaining the backline, goalkeeper Maddie Hebert has been playing like the returning All-Foothill League First Team keeper she is.

Hebert is now in her third season at the varsity level, having started last season and played in the second half of games her freshman season.

And you can’t talk Saugus soccer without mentioning a pair of returning All-SCV First Teamers in Angie Weiner and Monica Allen.

Despite missing time due to her club soccer commitments, Weiner leads Saugus in goals scored with seven goals.

Allen, who injured her ACL during the 2011 league season has returned and is getting back to form — which includes one of the most dangerous throw-ins in the Foothill League.

It’s true Saugus lost some key players off last year’s squad. But the Centurions appear just as loaded as ever — and that’s a dangerous fact for the rest of the Foothill League.

Hart

The Indians have been in a transition period during the preleague season, adjusting to a new goalkeeper, new defensive backline and new head coach.

Gone are former coach Mike Gomez, defensive captains Kelsey Steck and Danica Morgan, and goalie Ashleigh Tippet.

Under Lundin, the Indians struggled early in the season, opening the year 0-4-4 before picking up their first win on Dec. 13 against Arcadia, 3-0.

Things are starting to come together for Hart, though, winner of six in a row and unbeaten in its last seven.

Hart is coming off a championship in its own Hart Soccer Showcase, which included victories over Foothill League foes Golden Valley, 1-0, and Canyon, 3-0.

Defense, the strength of Hart’s 2011 team, has been excellent over Hart’s unbeaten stretch, pitching seven straight shutouts.

“We’re pretty sound in the back and having Sophie Cortes’ creativity in the middle and Presley Lambert’s work ethic, we’re a team that likes to control the tempo of the game and keep the ball on the ground,” Lundin said.

First year goalkeeper senior Daisy Hydar takes over for Tippet this season, and the defensive backline includes returning All-SCV First Team player senior Hailey Jenkins.

Five weeks ago, Hart’s chances of replicating last season’s second place finish looked slim — but with the team starting to buy in to Lundin’s philosophy, Hart is looking more and more like a team that can compete in the Foothill League.

“Our goal is to be champions,” Lundin said. “It’s not going to be easy. The Foothill league is never easy to win. Looking at results from other teams, it’s going to be a challenge. But I think the girls are up for it.”

Forward Jenny Chavez returns as Hart’s top weapon. Just a sophomore, Chavez led Hart in goals scored last season with 10, and provides Hart with an explosive forward who can stretch the defense with her speed up top.

Valencia

It’s hard to argue that any Foothill League team was playing better than Valencia to end the 2011 regular season.

So far this season, it doesn’t appear the Vikings have seen any let up.

They defeated defending CIF-Los Angeles City Section champion El Camino Real 3-0 in December and tied Flintridge Sacred Heart 2-2.

“We’ve had a really good preseason and I’ve been very happy with it,” O’Connell said. “We just have to keep playing our style and keep putting teams under a lot of pressure and have them have to adapt to us, as opposed to the other way around.”

Valencia is perhaps the most adept team in the league with the ball at its feet, excellent at keeping possession through the midfield and attacking zones.

Forward Taylor Venegas has benefited from that ability, currently leading the Vikings with four goals on the season.

Returning All-SCV First Teamers Rebecca Harrison (two goals, two assists) and Eryn Spencer (one goal) were instrumental in the Vikings run to third place last season and will be counted on again this year.

Harrison and Spencer, along with teammate Samantha Simon, constitute the core of a junior class that has been playing varsity together since freshman year.

“The freshman class from two years ago was one of my best in eight years,” O’Connell said.

Brooklyn Stevens returns as one of the league’s top defensive players, anchoring the Vikings’ backline, as well as senior captain Lindsay Bos, a four-year varsity looking for her first league title.

Coupled with returning All-Foothill League First Team goalkeeper Nicole Joseph, the Vikings might be Saugus’ biggest competition for a Foothill League crown in 2013.

“January 8th (Valencia’s Foothill League opener against Saugus) has been circled on the calendar for a long time,” O’Connell said. “We’re ready, and I’m sure (Helgeson) has her girls ready.”

West Ranch

West Ranch was an up and down team in 2011, showcasing speedy forwards, strong defensive players, a quality goalkeeper and an ability to move the ball quickly through the midfield with a focus on playing one-touch soccer.

“They’re a technical team. Each player is technically gifted,” White said. “It doesn’t do us any good to hold possession 75 percent of the time and not score.”

Unfortunately, that’s been a problem for the Wildcats since the close of last season.

Forwards Taylor Ayers and Valerie Mercado return and will be counted on to change that if West Ranch is going to return to the postseason.

The team is without 2011 All-SCV First Team players Kendall Moskul and Kylee MacArthur, along with second-teamer, goalkeeper K.T. Koury.

A group of newcomers will be relied on this season, including Kayla Satterfield, Nicolette Marinello and new goalie Logan Byam-Taylor, whom White calls one of the best keepers in Southern California.

“We need to get our confidence back,” White said. “I think we have. I’m a firm believer that finishing is a state of mind and you have to be confident in your ability. For us to be successful going into league, we have to gain some confidence in our attacking third and that means putting some balls into the back of the net. That’s the only way to get your confidence up.”

Canyon

The Cowboys are in an interesting position this season, with Rusk taking over coaching duties in the offseason.

He’s without 2011 All-SCV First Teamer Kalia Sargema, who suffered an ACL injury over the offseason and is questionable to return midway through league play, and second teamer Sarah Cipperly, who elected not to return to the team this season.

But the Cowboys have managed to plug in their gaps quite well, starting with sophomore Vanessa Quintero up top — a speedy forward who consistently puts pressure on a defense’s backline.

“She’s very quick, she’s almost faster with the ball,” Rusk said. “Not only that, but she has the individual ball skills that she’s very good in tight spaces as well.”

In the midfield, Kendall Bietsch and Alissa Munguia have held down the fort, and seniors Kristina Watanabe and Michelle Hogan have anchored the backline.

Canyon should also benefit during league play from returning goalkeeper Meghan Kennedy.

The team hasn’t had much time under Rusk, but that doesn’t mean expectations are any lower.

“Our goal this year is to make playoffs — the Foothill League is always a tough league, but I think that we can find our way into a playoff spot,” Rusk said.

Golden Valley

Another team trying to find its identity under a first-year head coach, the Grizzlies are looking to surprise some people during Foothill League play this season.

Golden Valley earned its first league victory in program history last season, and the culture is starting to change under Yassaman.

“They have built a culture, and I was happy to see this, that a tie and a good showing isn’t good enough,” Yassaman said. “We lost a game to Simi Valley to start the year, and Simi’s a good team, but I got the sense on the way back that the girls were saying, ‘We played better in the second half, but it’s still not good enough.’ The culture and the mindset is getting there. They look at the team and say OK, ‘We won the game, let’s win a couple games. Let’s make noise in the Foothill League. And that should be the expectation.”

If the Grizzlies are going to achieve that goal, they’ll have to lean on players like Colleen Fleming, Lauren Amara and Jo Lagunas.

Fleming is a returning All-SCV Second Team player who moved around the field and even played some goalkeeper last season.

This year she is an offensive threat who is adept with the ball at her feet and able to pick apart defenses.

Lagunas is a returning All-SCV honorable mention, who along with Fleming and Amara will push opponent’s backlines.

The Grizzlies strength, though, will be their defense, which averages just one goal allowed per game entering league play.

Michaela Jin and Gabby Lopez anchor that backline, and are players who could be playing on the back for any team in the league, Yassaman said.

In between the pipes, Jordan Burrows has emerged as the favorite to keep the goalkeeper position full time in a battle with senior Tamara Greene.

“Coming in late, I had to assess who my players were and figure out how we would be organized on the pitch,” Yassaman said. “But it’s been a smooth transition in that the girls have experience. Most of the girls who start have played varsity soccer.”

 

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