Before they take the field for their first official match, the members of the Crescenta Valley High boys’ soccer team will not be in line to defend the CIF Southern Section Division IV championship they won last season.
Things will look mighty different for the Falcons, who have been moved up to Division III and lost a plethora of key players to graduation who helped the Falcons win their third straight Pacific League championship before winning the program’s first CIF title and making an inaugural appearance in the CIF Southern California Regional Championships Division I championship match.
There will be some new opportunities on the horizon for the Falcons, and that’s fine with Crescenta Valley Coach Grant Clark.
“It would have been nice to have stayed in Division IV and tried to repeat,” said Clark, whose team is ranked No. 1 in the Division III preseason poll. “It will be a good challenge to see what we are made of and how we can adjust to being in a new division.
“I think we will have a good balance of athletes are very competitive. Last year, we took on the role of being underdog. Now, we are on the other side.”
Crescenta Valley lost forward Pavle Atanackovic, midfielder Alex Berger and goalkeeper Nick Ruiz, among others, to graduation. Atanackovic scored a school-record 39 goals and 87 points last season to earn All-Area Boys’ Soccer Player of the Year honors for the second straight season. Berger was named the league’s and division’s most valuable player and Ruiz shined in net.
While Clark said those players will be missed, the Falcons must move on after going 23-1-6, 12-0-2 in league last season.
“Regardless of who we have coming back or what division we are in, we have to be ready to play at a high level and they know to expect that,” Clark said. “It’s about how you are able to respond. We have some players who we have brought up to fill the holes that were left by the players who graduated.
“League will be a lot similar to last season with maybe a couple of teams pulling away from the pack. We want to win league again and we know we will get everybody’s best effort each time.”
Crescenta Valley will return several key players, including defender Matthew Bracht, defender Brian Ju, midfielder Erick Trejo and forward Eric Keshishian. Trejo and Bracht netted All-Area first- and second-team spots, respectively, last season.
St. Francis spent most of last season in the hunt for the Mission League title before finishing third. The Golden Knights then advanced to the second round of the Division I playoffs before succumbing to Ventura in overtime.
The Golden Knights will try again to win the team’s first league championship since 2008, bolstered by the return of goalkeeper Luca Coppola, midfielder Brookes Treidler, midfielder/forward Reed Izumi and defenders Christian Green and Luke Hatanaka.
St. Francis Coach Glen Appels, who led the Golden Knights to three CIF titles between 1996-2003, said he will be counting on the upperclassmen to provide leadership.
“We have a young team, but we have a good blend,” Appels said. “We are going to be looking at leadership from our returners and development from the younger guys.
“We know that league will again be tough. You’ll have the teams that do traditionally well and then you have others who are up and coming. We have to be ready every game.”
Coppola, a senior, will be back after earning all-league accolades last season. He spent most of the 2010-11 season battling an assortment of injuries.
“He’s experienced and we expect another big year from him,” Appels said. “There are so many good goalkeepers in our league and he’s right up there among them.”
Flintridge Prep was the other local team to qualify for the playoffs last season. Under coach Mathew Bowden, the Rebels tied for third in the Prep League and advanced to the first round of the Division VI playoffs.
Flintridge Prep might be in line for a return trip to the playoffs with the return of forwards Cole Rademacher and Manny Perez and defender Kurt Kozacik, who is fresh off helping the school’s football team win its first postseason contest since 2003.
Rademacher was named to the All-Area second team after being named to the all-league first team.
“We have a lot of confidence after what we were able to get done last year,” Bowden said. “We will use last year’s trip to the playoffs as an inspiration this year.
“The players are extremely upbeat.”
Glendale, Hoover and Glendale Adventist Academy will try to qualify for the playoffs after missing out last season. Glendale and Glendale Adventist will do so with new coaches.
The Nitros finished sixth in the Pacific League last season and will turn to coach Artur Aghasyan to get the program back on track. Glendale’s top players figure to be midfielders Berj Ghazarian and Albert Chamagua.
Aghasyan said the Nitros have spent most of the preseason trying to find lineup combinations that can help support Ghazarian and Chamagua.
“We are still missing some parts, but we are working hard at filling those spots,” Aghasyan said. “I want our guys to have that winning mentality and try to win league and get back to the playoffs.”
Hoover placed seventh in the Pacific League last season. Hoover Coach Kevin Cadenas and the Tornadoes are looking to move up in league with the return of forward Artin Almary and midfielder Argin Haghoubian.
“We only have four returners, two of them seniors,” Hoover Coach Kevin Cadenas said. “It will take a while to get some chemistry going.
“We have a lot of new faces, but it seems to be a good group.”
At Glendale Adventist, the Cougars will turn to coach Eddie Rivera to lead them to the postseason for the first time in the program’s brief history. The Cougars won two games in the Liberty League last season.
Expected to carry the majority of the scoring chores will be midfielders Erick Marcondez and Edward Figueroa.
“These are two guys who are capable of taking control,” Rivera said. “We are trying to improve and make the playoffs.”