From dawn to dusk the next two Saturdays, 32 boys' varsity prep teams from all over the Southland will compete on five soccer fields in a tournament that many believe will showcase several Southern Section playoff teams.
The 20th South Holiday Soccer Tournament is again featuring several teams from the Bay League--a hotbed of prep soccer talent.
"Usually, four or five of the league's teams are among the best around," South Torrance Coach Roger Bryant said. "And there's almost always a Bay League team that reaches the Southern Section finals."
Carlos Cooper, coach at Bishop Montgomery, agrees.
"It's going to be a very interesting season," Cooper said. "But we'll know more after the South Tournament, when most teams have six or seven games under their belts. We'll have to see how some of the new Bay League coaches do."
Here are some of the teams that could make an impact in the tournament and could also still be in the thick of it come playoff time:
West Torrance--Senior midfielder Michael Kafka, considered the class of the Bay League, sparks a potent offense for the defending Southern Section 4-A co-champion Warriors. Kafka honed his already outstanding ball-handling skills during the summer in Rosario, Argentina, where he has hinted that he may someday like to play professional soccer.
Kafka's partner at midfield will be the quiet Mike McGhee, who hails from a Scottish soccer family. McGhee's unique style of play making, West Torrance Coach Mike Eaton said, makes him "every bit as good as Kafka."
The pair will aim a lot of passes this year at senior forward Kevin St. Pierre, who packs the goal-scoring punch in West's offensive line. Bryant says the scrappy St. Pierre is "always a threat to put one in the net."
Eaton said senior stopper Richard Gabaldon plays the ball very well in the air and gives West a quick transition game for overlapping runs. Going into last year, Jeff Lloyd was a question mark at goalie, but his gritty saves as a junior make him a potential all-league candidate this year.
It adds up to what could be a pleasant year for Eaton. "We've got a lot of balance," he said. "I'd like to think we have no noticeable drop-off when we put in any of our 15 guys."
South Torrance--The Spartans graduated six seniors to the college ranks from last year's 4-A semifinalist team, so Bryant will need a lot of production from his veterans to win the Bay League.
Among them is junior forward Danny Meyer, who will be South's top goal-scoring threat, and senior midfielder Steve Watt, who Bryant says "plays low to the ground on defense and gets right up in the guy's face."
Scott Ladner and Todd Mace will battle for the starting position in the goal, and senior Randy Meyer anchors South's back line at right fullback.
Mike Wyrick and Marc DeRossett, who helped lead South to the football quarterfinals this year out of the backfield, will shift to the front line for soccer. On the wings, Wyrick and DeRossett are not finesse players, but both are strong and fast and have hard shots.
"They're both 'bang-bang' players," Bryant said. "They're not about to put the ball at their feet and fake everybody out."
Palos Verdes--Veteran Coach Al King's team could be the dark horse of the Bay League this year. Eight of his 11 starters are juniors, but King says they're all "young and coming."
Rangy junior Paul Kaemmer can "run all day" at forward, King said. At 6-1, the former 880-yard track champion blankets the field well.
Kaemmer will dish off often to speedster Jeff Bowers at center forward. "He can hit the ball hard and he knows how to find the net," King said of Bowers.
Junior Jim Miller is King's center halfback. He'll get a lot of help from 5-5 sweeper Leo Lundy, a sprinter with fine defensive skills. Goalkeeper Graham Harrison is something of an unknown commodity. "He may be brilliant, but he's untested." King said.
"We're still ragged at times, but with all juniors we'll get better as the season goes on. If that's the case, we might really be good."
Bishop Montgomery--The Argentina-born Cooper said he was thinking of retiring before this year, but now he says: "That would be pretty foolish." Cooper has a fast, tall squad of nearly all juniors returning, and his team could chase Mater Dei in the Angelus League.
The Knights' success will hinge on a talented group of midfielders, anchored by highly improved center half Matt Arnett. Mauricio Escobar will patrol the right side, and lone senior Chris Simons will hold down the left.
Sweeper Brian Haynes leads a veteran defense, and at 6-1, he's tall and fast. The same goes for center forward Michael Jones, a transfer from Banning who Cooper says "looks overweight but isn't." Built like a football player, Jones is quick and has a good shot. Speedy right winger Tony Grilli rounds out the offense.
Rolling Hills--At 28, Marc Oberman may be the youngest coach in the Bay League, but the first-year coach also has a talented bunch of young players that he's "known and raised since they were 10 years old."
So Oberman doesn't think the coaching change at Rolling Hills will affect his players. "I have a different relationship with these kids," he said. "They play more for me as a friend than as a coach."
Rolling Hills will be led by senior center halfback Adam Faulds, an excellent ball controller. Faulds is the playmaker in an offensive machine headed by junior winger Shaun Carpenter, whose strong one-on-one play against the goalie led to his four goals in the Titans' opener against Ocean View.
Rolling Hills also has a tough and tight-knit defense, composed of Mark Sandberg, Eric Reidt, Dave Fritz and John Sabio, and boasts two fine goalkeepers in Jason Smith and Fred Jamet.
Another team that could open some eyes in the Bay League will be Torrance, which still has standout Mike Copeland but lost several seniors to graduation.
Mira Costa, with a big, tall, aggressive team, could challenge for the Ocean League title. But they'll have to contend with powerhouse Santa Monica. And though its soccer program has declined in recent years, Hawthorne could stir up some trouble in the Ocean League.
Former Rolling Hills Coach Dick Barkus says declining enrollment in the South Bay has hurt even big schools such as Hawthorne, however.
"Some still have strong inventories of good, young players," Barkus said. "But the smaller enrollments, especially in the bay communities, are really affecting the quality of play all over the area."