Girls’ Soccer Preview: Flintridge Prep primed for sensational season

A Prep League title, postseason wins in the Southern Section and Southern California Regional playoffs and incredible statistics colored a phenomenal and historic season for the Flintridge Prep girls’ soccer team in 2016-17.

With nearly every starter returning for the Rebels and five All-Area selections back, expectations are soaring.

“The expectations are really high for us,” said Flintridge Prep coach Esteban Chavez, the reigning All-Area Girls’ Soccer Coach of the Year. “Our goal is to win CIF. I know a lot of teams say that, but that really is our goal and we’re capable of it.”

Like Flintridge Prep, La Cañada won a league crown as it claimed the Rio Hondo League title while Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy struggled and finished outside of the postseason.

Whether it’s maintaining last season’s level of success or exceeding it, the La Cañada Flintridge trio is set to kick off the 2017-18 season.

Prep’s cavalcade of returning talent includes reigning All-Area Girls’ Soccer Player of the Year Helen Schaefer (30 goals, 31 assists), a junior forward, 2016 All-Area Girls’ Soccer Player of the Year Julia Gonzalez (31 goals, 22 assists), a senior forward, All-Area junior forward Mike Celeste (23 goals, 16 assists), All-Area senior midfielder Mona Cesario (seven goals, nine assists) and All-Area senior goalie Lindsey Uteda (0.862 goals-against average). Defender Jillian Brady is really the only significant departure for the Rebels, but Chavez stresses that no matter the amount of returners, what matters is if they’ve improved.

“If you don’t get any better, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “We have to get better to do as well as we did last season.”

Last season, Flintridge Prep (23-5-3) won the Prep League title and raced to the CIF Southern Section Division III semifinals and the Southern California Division III Regional semis, tallying a school-record 113 goals while allowing just 25. The Rebels’ record and stats likely won’t be as sterling this time around, though, as Chavez has stacked the team’s nonleague schedule with juggernauts like Sierra Canyon, Mater Dei, Los Alamitos, Bishop Amat and Chaminade.

“Our preseason schedule is three to four times tougher than last year,” said Chavez, whose team will remain in Division III, while South Torrance, which defeated Prep in both semifinals and the other two Southern Section D-III semifinalists, Bishop Amat and Claremont, have moved up to Division II.

While expectations are higher, so is Chavez’ workload as he has taken on the head coaching duties for the boys’ team, as well.

So, the Rebels return with an abundance of talent and aspirations, but, just like any other team at the genesis of a season, plenty of question marks.

At La Cañada, second-year coach Kevin Neumeier takes no hesitation when proclaiming the aspirations for his Spartans.

“We’ve got a lot of players returning and we hope to repeat,” he said. “I’d say we should go in as favorites and that’s what I’m putting on the girls is we want to go back to back.”

The Spartans went 5-1-2 to win league with San Marino and Temple City comfortably behind at 3-3-2, but they went just 8-11-3 overall and lost in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division III playoffs to Roosevelt, 2-1.

With teams like Valencia Valencia, Mayfield, Crescenta Valley, Arcadia and Flintridge Sacred Heart dotting the Spartans’ nonleague schedule, the team’s record might not glow this season, either, but that’s fine with Neumeier as he sees nonleague play as preparation for league.

Though the Spartans lost All-Area pick Ari Aghadjanians, experienced returners are in abundance, with 12 seniors on the team, Neumeier said.

“Definitely, our strength is going to be our leadership,” said Neumeier, whose team was realigned to Division IV. “We definitely have the leadership with girls who have been there before.”

Looking to win repeat league crowns for just the third time in program history, the Spartans will be led by senior forward Chloe Kouyoumdjian (All-Area pick last season with seven goals), senior defender Kallie Rushing and senior midfielder Mia LeClerc.

“You couldn’t ask for a better three leaders,” Neumeier said.

Once the standard-bearer in area girls’ soccer, Flintridge Sacred Heart missed the playoffs a season ago, struggling to a 3-5 finish in the arduous Mission League, though it had wins over La Cañada, Mayfield, West Ranch and Chaminade.

“Last year we played well against good teams and horrible against bad teams,” said Tologs coach Mark Snashall, whose team posted a 9-6-1 overall record. “This year we’re hoping for more consistency. If we get that, I think we should be OK.”

Flintridge Sacred Heart had some significant losses such as All-Area honorees Nia Harris and Sophia Saldivar to graduation, while goalies Mattie Interian and Giulia Cascapera were both due back, but transferred out due to college and national team reasons. Junior Jillian Willis is also likely not to return due to playing for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.

But All-Area selection Amethyst Trang (five goals, three assists) is back and the senior midfielder is likely to lead the way.

“She will be our little linchpin in the middle,” Snashall said. “Amethyst is a little magician.”

Sophomore returners Lauren Bolte and Hillary Howard should also be leaders on the offense.

Reigning Mission League champion Harvard-Westlake is likely to be the favorite once again, while Alemany and Chaminade are each coming off lengthy playoff runs.

“We’re gonna be tough across the board. The girls are hungry to play,” said Snashall, whose team is vying to make the Division II playoffs. “At the very least this year, we’ll be competitive. We’ll shoot for the top two [in league] and give winning league a shot.”

grant.gordon@latimes.com

Twitter: @TCNGrantGordon

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