With both teams undefeated in the preseason, the Corona del Mar and Newport Harbor high school girls' soccer teams are each already having amazing runs.
Much of the credit can go to an amazing freshman class for each program. Simply put, the class of 2020 can bring it.
CdM and Newport Harbor each have three freshmen starters that have been instrumental to their success. Forward Trinity Rodman, midfielder Megan Chelf and right back Alex Ianni all have provided a spark for the Sea Kings. Forwards Sadie Pitchess and Skylynn Rodriguez, as well as right back Makenzie Trigo, have done the same for the Sailors.
All six players have been instrumental as the Back Bay rivals were a combined 19-0-3 entering this week. Both teams have won a tournament, the Westminster Tournament for CdM and the Best in the West Tournament for Newport Harbor in the "EFGH" division.
All six of them play high-level club soccer. Chelf and Rodman, who is a U.S. Under-14 National Team member, have been playing together on the SoCal Blues for several years with much success. They have also provided a spark for CdM. Chelf has eight goals, which is tied for the team lead with Ava McKenzie, and leads the Sea Kings with 10 assists. Despite missing three games due to training with the national team, Rodman has five goals and ranks second on the squad with seven assists.
Last week, Rodman's older brother D.J. was featured as Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week for boys' basketball. Trinity also can bring it for CdM girls' soccer, which is coached by Bryan Middleton in his 15th season.
"This freshman class, they bring offensive firepower to the team and have allowed us to have this 10-0-1 start, which is the best start that we've ever had at CdM," Middleton said. "Hopefully we can keep it going with our last two preseason games going into league. I believe we're playoff bound, but I want to be at a point where we can get one of the top four seeds [in CIF Southern Section Division 2], because then it makes an easier path to try to go for that CIF championship."
Trigo, the Sailors defender, also plays for the Blues. There's some crossover between the two Back Bay rivals as well, as Ianni and Rodriguez play on the same Slammers club team and Pitchess also plays for Slammers.
This level of success is certainly unprecedented in recent years for the Sailors, led by first-year head man Justin Schroeder. Rodriguez has six goals this season, which is second on the team behind senior striker Sianna Siemonsma. Pitchess has four. Add in talented sophomore midfielder Emily Johnson, and that's a recipe for success for a team that finished last place in the six-team Sunset League last season. The Sailors played even with defending league champion Huntington Beach on Tuesday before losing in overtime, 4-3.
"I think it's super-exciting," Pitchess said. "Coming into Harbor, I kind of knew that they weren't very good. I didn't know what to expect, but I'm glad that we're winning. Justin wants to change the program not just this year, but long-term. I think his energy, along with Coach [Angela] Reiling, the assistant coach, they brought a new vibe to Harbor soccer. Everyone takes it more seriously. Last year they had the talent, too, I just don't think they had the mind set to do it."
CdM, which has never made it past the CIF quarterfinals in Middleton's tenure, has a mind set for a CIF title. The Sea Kings have four senior captains this year in Leah Givant, Taylor Rosen, Emma Scott and goalkeeper Ally Lozano, and they have been welcoming to the freshmen.
"They talk a lot about how when they were juniors and sophomores, the connection wasn't as good," Rodman said. "I think they try to make it more close."
The freshmen may have come in with hype, but they refuse to rest on their laurels. Chelf talked about giving it her all, even though she made varsity as a freshman. The desire to win, to be great, is strong. Another freshman who may be able to contribute soon for CdM is forward Kennedy Campbell, who has missed the preseason due to an ankle injury.
"We're having such success because we all have such a good connection," Chelf said. "We all hang out outside of soccer, so on the field it's the same. We're probably closest with the seniors ... and we all want to win."
On the other side of the bay, Rodriguez said the Newport Harbor seniors have been equally welcoming to the class of 2020.
"It's fun," Rodriguez said. "The freshmen and the seniors, we get along well. They always joke, like, 'Welcome to the team, freshmen,' and they make us do things. But they do it as a joke. On the field, since we get along so well outside of soccer, we communicate really well."
Added Trigo: "Our teammates can see that all three of us are working hard in practice to deserve our spots on the team."
Fans will not get to see the Back Bay freshmen match up head to head, at least not this year. The Battle of the Bay girls' soccer game was rained out on Dec. 22 and won't be rescheduled.
But this freshman class will continue to try to make its mark in league play, which starts for CdM on Tuesday at Beckman. And, since both CdM and Newport Harbor are in Division 2, there's always a chance of a playoff matchup.
Until then, these players will be ones to watch on the pitch.