Building upon success is a task several local teams will face as the 2012-13 girls’ soccer season begins anew.
At South Pasadena High, it could be argued the defending Rio Hondo League champion Tigers enjoyed their strongest season since 2003 in winning a league title, finishing with a 17-3-6 record and advancing to the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division VI playoffs.
Last year’s squad included five seniors, highlighted by defender Jessica Suh and All-Area first-teamer Taylor Colliau (14 goals and six assists).
“I know we graduated a few player and of course Taylor, but I think this year’s team can also be special,” said Tigers Coach Randy Lilavois, the reigning All-Area Coach of the Year. “Pretty much we have 12 to 15 players coming back and some players ready to lead.”
Lilavois expects Colliau’s on-field leadership to be replaced by two players in returning goalie Angelique Ulmer (15 shutouts) and senior Jessica Moog, the Rio Hondo League co-Most Valuable Player, who totaled 10 goals and 10 assists last season.
Junior forward Kelly Brady (team-leading 18 goals last season) and junior sweeper Samantha Figueroa, two league first-team picks, along with sophomore Jackie Mejia and Emily Figueroa are all players who will be counted on to lead South Pasadena’s success this season.
“Right now, we’re missing about four players who are on club teams, so we’ll take our lumps early,” Lilavois said. “But by the time we get into league play, we should be pretty strong and should compete.”
One squad hoping to dethrone South Pasadena is San Marino, which welcomes back 11 players from last year’s squad that finished 11-6-4, second in the Rio Hondo League, and advanced to the second round of the Division VI playoffs.
Junior forward Hayley Thompson (12 goals and seven assists), senior midfielder Quinta Addis and junior defender Alana Hillman, all Rio Hondo League first-team picks, are three of the Titans’ key returners along with senior forward Hope Welder (11 goals and five assists) and senior midfielder Alex Schuster (13 assists).
San Marino may have difficulty, though, replacing senior fullback Rebecca Morris, an All-Area second-team pick and the league’s most valuable defensive player.
When the CIF Southern Section preseason polls were released earlier in November, not many local teams received recognition.
One squad that did, however, was Marshall Fundamental, which was granted the top spot in Division VII a year after finishing 12-6-2, runner-up in the Delphic League, and reached the quarterfinals of the divisional playoffs.
“Coming off last year, the girls worked really hard for this ranking,” Eagles Coach Esteban Villanueva said. “To be ranked No. 1 is fun and the girls are excited.”
If there’s an area of concern for the Eagles, it’s that they start the season without all-league league first-team striker Isabel Robles (15 goals), who is out two to four weeks with an MCL tear.
In her stead, the Eagles will rely on junior midfielder Quetzali Del Villar (eight goals), Jordan Snowden and freshman Erika Perez, while defenders Jackie Jaquez and Arianna Dowell will provide necessary defense for goalie Ariel Martinez.
Like Marshall, Pasadena Poly was ranked going into the season as the Panthers are No. 10 in Division III.
“Expectations are pretty high for a very successful season,” Panthers ninth-year Coach Patrick Gray said. “We have some nice young players and solid returners. Right now, the biggest thing for us is getting on the field and having chemistry.”
Poly concluded an 18-4 season last year in which the Panthers finished second in the Prep League and reached the second round of the playoffs.
Of all the local squads, perhaps Poly is best armed to trump its success last season as the Panthers return 10 starters and only graduated one player.
It may be difficult, however, to expect more from junior forward Noel Askins, an All-Area first-team pick who finished with 27 goals and five assists. Askins will pair with fellow striker Sarah Mendenhall, perhaps the area’s most dangerous attacker on set pieces, who finished with 21 goals and 13 assists.
Other key returners include senior defenders Brooke Edwards, Catherine Boyer and Julia Blanco and midfielders Katie Wardlaw and Evan Gancedo .
Change came to Prep League rival Mayfield this summer as coach Louis Hunt was replaced by Chris Howe, who hopes to surpass his predecessor’s 10-8 mark last season, which included a fourth-place finish in league and a wild-card round victory.
The good news for Howe is that his 22-girl roster is filled with valuable returners in sophomore midfielder Maddie Pena (seven goals), Jessica Sarni (five goals and two assists) and Kennedy Dinius (four goals and four assists).
Howe is hopeful that freshman Marissa Valenzuela can fill in aptly in goal in place of graduated senior keeper Alana Victor.
While expectations are already high at several local schools, perhaps Westridge and second-year coach Felipe Rodriguez can successfully fly under the radar this year after the Tigers finished 2-10-3 last season and sixth in the Prep League.
“I used a lot of last season to prepare for this year,” Rodriguez said. “This year we’re a little bit faster and a lot more talented.”
Westridge brings back nine starters and one big player in junior midfielder Julia Matthiessen, who missed all of last season with an ACL tear in her knee.
“She’s a premiere club player and brings a lot of stability to our middle,” Rodriguez said.
Matthiessen will pair with senior co-captain Alexandra Schiffman in the midfield, while Schiffman will split the team leadership duties with senior center back and co-captain Claire Davis.
Rodriguez is also excited about the progress of freshman forward Emma Hovanec, the Prep League cross-country runner-up, and sophomore midfielder Nora Lansing.
Another squad hoping to rebound this season is La Salle, which will look to overcome a rare off year in which the Lancers finished 8-11-3 and tied for third in the competitive Del Rey League.
“Expectations are very high,” La Salle Coach Edgar Manvelyan said. “We only lost one senior that was a starter and we’re looking very strong.”
The Lancers may boast the area’s top goalkeeping tandem in Sam Dier, a transfer from Sherman Oaks Notre Dame who verbally committed to UC Riverside, and senior Cassidy Rey, who committed to the University of Denver.
Defense figures to lead La Salle as either goalie will serve as the last line of defense ahead of junior center defender Kelly Synold and senior right back Erica Stanislawski.
On offense, the Lancers will rely on sophomore midfielder Kacey Venti and a healthy Alex Astorga, who will attempt to come back from an ACL injury last season, and on sophomore forwards Kim Mejia and India Hines, a speedy transfer from St. Joseph Lakewood. One of the interesting players this season will be senior Ally Puga, who missed last season with a hairline fracture in her spine.
Keeping with the redemption theme, Maranatha is hoping to improve upon a 4-14-3 season last year in which the Minutemen finished fourth in the Olympic League.
Winning may be a problem early on, however, as head coach Heather Fraschetti is missing four players from her 16-girl roster, including team MVP Danni Kruse (eight goals), as the striker badly injured her ankle during the volleyball season and is still scheduled to be out until January.
“Despite the injuries, I’m really excited about this year’s team,” Fraschetti said. “We’re going to have some struggles early on with the injuries, but by the start of league, we should be able to compete.”
Fraschetti has key players returning in midfielder Romana Brenna, goalie Alex Ojeda and backline players in sophomore Morgan Howe and senior Laura Mason, who will pair with freshmen like midfielder Michelle Palfrey and striker Tatum French.
It’s year No. 2 for Pasadena High Coach Kamiko Johnson and her Bulldogs, who will try to build upon a season in which Pasadena finished third in the Pacific League with a 20-5-3 record overall, but was eliminated in the first round of the Division II playoffs.
Johnson will hope for big seasons from junior midfielder Samantha Koemans, senior goalie Venice Santos and senior midfielder Alise Hildreth.