The Newport Harbor High girls’ soccer program saw its best overall player graduate when midfielder Emily Johnson, last season’s Daily Pilot Dream Team Player of the Year, went off to UC Santa Barbara.
The Sailors, fresh off an 18-3-6 season, a Wave League championship and a CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinal appearance, now aim to defend their first league title since 1985-86. That they’re probably favored to do so speaks to the culture that fourth-year coach Justin Schroeder is creating, the idea that there can be a culture of winning not limited to a certain player.
Newport Harbor opens the season ranked No. 6 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 poll and returns 15 players from last season. Senior forward Sadie Pitchess, who shared the league MVP award with Johnson last season, is a four-year starter, as is senior forward Skylynn Rodriguez and senior defender Makenzie Trigo.
The Sailors’ defense is strong with pieces like seniors Nicole Laz, Jenna McConnaughey and Liz Peters returning, along with junior goalkeeper Jessica Gardner. Junior midfielder Reese Bodas is another dynamic player for the Sailors, who did lose team captain Sofia Velasquez to graduation in the midfield, along with Johnson.
“As long as we can figure out the midfield, I think we will be a solid team this year,” Schroeder said.
Fountain Valley is the other Wave League team ranked early on, as the Barons are No. 3 in Division 2. Senior forward Micaela Villafuerte and senior center midfielder Sam Escobar are key players.
Laguna Beach is young, coach Ben Helm said. Senior Reilyn Turner (UCLA), the Dream Team Player of the Year as a sophomore, elected not to play high school soccer this season. Senior goalkeeper Cameron Russo is the only senior in the entire program and will be a leader for the Breakers.
The Surf League boasts local teams in Corona del Mar, Edison and Huntington Beach, along with defending champion Los Alamitos.
CdM, ranked No. 5 in Division 1, finished second in the league last season and boasts perhaps the area’s most dynamic player in Arizona-bound senior forward Megan Chelf. She already set the program single-game goals record this season, with five in a 6-0 win over Rolling Hills Estates Peninsula on Dec. 6.
Huntington Beach has key returners like center midfielder Summer Stewart, left defender Maddie Phantumabamrung and right defender/right forward Gabriella Rizzo. All three players are seniors.
Edison finished last in league play last season but opens this season ranked No. 9 in Division 1. The Chargers have experienced players like senior defender Abby McCollum, senior forward Nicole Field, junior defender Lucy Granger, senior midfielder Kate Davies and junior midfielder Riley O’Brien ready to make an impact.
“We have a strong defensive line,” said Edison coach Kerry “Mac” Crooks, in her 30th year in charge at her alma mater. “We are a pretty passing team but need to learn to play with a bit more fury.”
Costa Mesa and second-year coach Jason Boyce are looking to build on last season’s success, which included the program’s first Orange Coast League title since 2008-09 and an appearance in the Division 5 semifinals. Key returners include the Carrillo sisters on defense — Vanessa is now a senior and Daisy is a sophomore.
Across town, Estancia will again feature UC Irvine-bound senior striker Desiree Mendoza, last season’s Orange Coast League MVP who scored 22 of her 28 goals in league play. Mendoza said she is currently out with an ankle injury but should be back on the pitch soon.
Los Amigos won the Division 5 title last season but will need to replace super-utility player Vidalia Abarca, the CIF Division 5 Player of the Year who is now at Cal State San Bernardino.
Pacifica Christian Orange County fifth-year coach Brandon Gonzalez said that defense will be a strength for the Tritons, who had 12 shutouts last season and return their whole defense. Junior goalkeeper and team captain Jo Snyder is a leader there, while senior midfielder and Vanguard University commit Brooklyn Motske is another key returner.
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