Top teams made titanic imprints

GLENDALE — The area's top-10 high school teams from the 2009-10 season were selected by the Glendale News-Press sports department.

1 Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy soccer — If the Tologs hadn't advanced to the 2010 CIF Southern California Division III Regional Championships and won the whole thing, it's quite possible that they would still top this list.

Their Mission League title defense — which resulted in a second-place finish, despite the fact they never lost a match — and the ensuing thrill ride to the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs provided a standard of excitement and excellence that few teams could match.

But, of course, Sacred Heart (22-1-4) did cap off the year with its first-ever Regionals crown, making the youthful squad's selection for team-of-the-year honors practically a slam dunk.

"It was terrific," Tologs co-Coach Frank Pace said of the winning the championship, 2-1, over Francis Parker at Warren High on March 12. "I think we might have felt we had underachieved if we hadn't won that state championship. Imagine saying that our fear would be underachieving, but we were undefeated in league and came in second, so there was that feeling of unfinished business.

"To be able to finish the year with a win and have that win mean a state championship, how do you get any better than that?"

With a plethora of raw talent, Sacred Heart didn't seem to suffer from the loss of several top seniors from last year. Aside from losing the league title, they achieved even more than that celebrated squad did, setting school records in wins, goals scored (72) and assists (70), while also posting a school-record 15 shutouts.

Featuring the dynamic offensive tandem of forwards Katie Johnson (23 goals) and Breeana Koemans (19 goals, 16 assists), balanced with a rock-solid defense led by All-Area Girls' Soccer Player of the Year Natalie Zeenni, Sacred Heart was consistently perched at the top of the Division II rankings and finished the season ranked ninth in the nation and third in the state by ESPN Rise.

But it was the team's thrilling playoff exploits, defined by clutch play and a never-say-die resiliency, that solidified its legacy.

Down, 2-0, to defending Division II champion Saugus in the quarterfinals, Sacred Heart staged one of the most dramatic and significant comebacks in area history, shutting out the Centurions in the second half and scoring three times to advance to the first semifinal in program history.

Though the Tologs' championship quest ended in the semifinals, they showed the same heart and poise under pressure in battling Beckman to a tie after trailing in the second half only to fall in a tense exchange of penalty kicks.

Redemption was found in the Regional Championships, where Sacred Heart's charge to the finals brought them face to face with a loaded, physical Lancers team.

Once again down early, 1-0, the Tologs once again showed their ability to shift momentum in their favor and keep it there, as they prevailed in a physical standoff to become only the second area team to win a regional title after St. Francis accomplished the feat in 2009.

"Our biggest accomplishment was both the team and personal growth over the course of the season," said Pace, whose team received nine all-league nods and had three ESPN all-state selections. "Each and every kid on that field put personal agendas aside toward the betterment of the team.

"It takes a while, but toward the end of the year we were clearly 18 hearts beating as one and that was the difference."

2 Crescenta Valley boys' swimming — Even as they finished a respectable seventh in the Division II finals to close the 2009 season, the Falcons were still a few key pieces away from being able to seriously contend for a CIF title.

This season, highly-touted freshmen Young Tae Seo and Harrison Thai joined a strong returning core that included standouts Chris Veselich, Josh Chi and Andrew De Jong and the result was a dominant run to the squad's 18th straight Pacific League title and a remarkable runner-up finish in Division II at the CIF finals at Belmont Plaza pool on May 15.

"This is an almost perfect ending," Veselich said after the Falcons had totaled 191 points a the CIF finals to come in second to Oaks Christian.

Between Seo's eye-popping individual successes, including a CIF title in the 200-yard individual medley, big points from Thai (second in 100 breaststroke), and three top-five relay finishes, including second in the 200-medley relay for Seo, Thai, Veselich and Jason Kim, it was an all-around team effort for Crescenta Valley at the CIF finals.

"This CIF [meet] was amazing," Seo said. "Chris and Josh and all my teammates did really good, especially Harrison, and our relay did really good.

"I'm sure next year we will try to get first."

The Falcons' star power was also on display at the Pacific League finals at Burbank High on May 6, where the league unbeaten team racked up 592 points and collected titles in all but one event, to go along with league records in tow events set by Seo and Thai.

3 St. Francis football — Battling perennially tough opposition in the Mission League and Western Division is nothing new for St. Francis, which also plays a challenging slate of nonleague games each year.

But even by their own exacting standards, the 2009 season contained plenty for the Golden Knights to look back upon proudly.

A huge win over Loyola on Oct. 23, that came on the heels of a very near upset of Pac-5 Division titan Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, wrapped up a 6-1 nonleague slate and sent the team into Mission League play with momentum.

A resounding win over St. Paul and a loss to league champion Alemany, in which the defense was spectacular, left St. Francis in a critical situation going into it's league finale against Chaminade.

The Golden Knights responded and pulled off a dramatic come-from behind win over the Eagles after trailing by 18 points at halftime, clinching second place and an automatic playoff berth.

St. Francis finished the season 9-3 after advancing to the quarterfinals of the playoffs where it took a 49-42 double-overtime loss on the road to Palmdale to knock the Golden Knights from the title hunt.

With two-way standout Dietrich Riley and gutsy quarterback Justin Posthuma, who played several games with an injured hand, leading the way, St. Francis averaged just under 34 points per game and the Chris Cabrera-led defense allowed just 14.4 points a game during the regular season.

We had a good season and we had a lot of players recognized," said Coach Jim Bonds, whose team received 16 all-league nods and had seven players named All-CIF. "The other coaches in the league showed our players a lot of respect."

4 Crescenta Valley boys' water polo — The Falcons had two titles to defend this season, having won the Pacific League title and their first-ever Division VI crown in 2008.

The Sakonju-coached team proved to be more than up to the challenge of the former, running the league gauntlet at 8-0, capped by a thrilling come-from-behind overtime win over Glendale in the league championship match at Burbank High on Nov. 5.

When their CIF quest came up short in the semifinals, the Falcons realized firsthand just how difficult it is to repeat, but they mounted a worthy run at the title in the process.

After dismissing Oxnard and Pasadena Poly, the Falcons met up with Rio Mesa, the team it defeated in 2008's championship match, in the semifinals at William Woollett Aquatic Center on Nov. 18.

The efforts of Veselich, Rane Colvin, Alan Dearman, Matt Peters and Co. weren't enough to stop the Spartans from pulling away after a tight first half to get some revenge in a 10-6 win, but the team still finished the season 20-9 and landed six players on the all-league team and five players on the All-CIF team.

"This was the deepest team I think I've ever had in my career," Sakonju said. "That balance is what made it such a strong team."

5 Glendale boys' water polo — The Nitros emerged as the biggest challenge to Crescenta Valley's dominance in the Pacific League this year and came seconds away from going farther in the Division VI playoffs than the defending-champion Falcons.

"All together, we put in a good effort," said first-year Coach Forest Holbrook, whose team led eventual champion Webb by a goal with 11 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter before falling, 18-14, in overtime in the semifinal match at William Woollett Aquatic Center on Nov. 18. "I couldn't be more proud of them."

Led by Gor Asryan and goalkeeper Haik Chatalyan, Glendale put together a 20-7 season, going 6-2 in league for second place and posting playoff wins over Cajon and Walnut, the latter coming in a gritty 11-9 win that put the team in the semifinals for the first time since 2000.

6 Renaissance Academy basketball — The Wildcats missed the playoffs in 2009 after a string of deep postseason runs, but came back with a vengeance this season.

Ranked atop the Division 5-A rankings nearly from wire to wire, Renaissance went 20-9 and reached the semifinals of the playoffs with an average margin of victory of 20.3 points per game in playoff wins over Arrowhead Christian, Chadwick and Holy Martyrs.

The Wildcats, who were coached by Sid Cooke and led by the trio of Gill Tacita, Bryan Bourgeois and Dushon Carter, were stopped in the semis by Sierra Canyon, but not before rallying from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit to get within three points within the last 2:00.

7 Crescenta Valley girls' soccer — A stellar defense carried the Falcons to the second round of the Division II playoffs and a second straight Pacific League championship.

Only four goals were allowed all season by the stingy Falcons (16-2-3), who also had a flair for the dramatic, clinching the league crown on the final day of the regular season with a 2-0 win over Burbank.

Led by league MVP Frances Boukidis, Crescenta Valley netted all-league honors for a total of eight players and All-CIF nods for three.

8 Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy swimming — With the return of top swimmer Andrea Kropp, Sacred Heart was able to climb back to the top of the hypercompetitive Mission League, sharing the title with Harvard-Westlake after finishing runner-up the year before.

The Tologs also made a bigger impact in Division I, where Kropp won a CIF title in the 100-yard breaststroke and the 200-medley relay team finished 14th overall at the CIF finals.

9 Crescenta Valley girls' water polo — The Falcons felt they had something to prove after finishing second to Burbank in the Pacific League in 2009.

The proof came in an undefeated league championship and a run to the Division IV quarterfinals, as the team finished the season at 26-5.

Kim Fraisse, who set a new single-season school scoring record with 129 goals, and goalkeeper Sofie Munoz led a group that included eight all-league honorees and five All-CIF recipients.

10 Hoover boys' water polo — The Tornadoes went 19-14 and advanced to the Division VI quarterfinals for the first time in program history.

Led by Hakop Kaplanyan, who broke the Southern Section single-season scoring record with 229 goals, the high-scoring Tornadoes powered their way to two playoff wins with a total of 37 goals scored.

Hoover lost to top-seeded Webb, 18-10, in the semifinals.

Others receiving votes: Crescenta Valley girls' basketball.

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