Quarters at stake for Sacred Heart, Prep

GLENDALE — Carrying the area banner as the only two remaining girls' soccer teams, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy and Flintridge Prep both face formidable foes in the CIF Southern Section second round with vastly different destinations.

Sacred Heart's Tologs will head south some 70 miles to face host Aliso Niguel at 4 p.m. today in a Division I showdown, while Prep's Rebels won't have to venture far from their classrooms when they host Cypress at 3 p.m. today on the Flintridge Prep campus for their Division III matchup.

For the Rebels, who have often secured the Glendale Sports Complex as their home field, choosing to play on campus in front of an even greater amount of their home fans has been a welcomed change.

"We finally started doing it this year," Flintridge Prep Coach Esteban Chavez said. "The teachers and faculty are there and their friends and family. They love the support.

"I feel like it puts pressure on the other team. I think it just benefits us."

While Chavez is happy to have Cypress having to do the traveling, Sacred Heart co-Coach Frank Pace got exactly what he predicted when the Division I pairings were released.

"I expected, if we won, to see Aliso in the next round," Pace said.

Having gone on the road as an at-large entrant from the South Coast League to defeat Northwood, 2-0, Aliso Niguel (11-6-4) earned an automatic home match against third-seeded Sacred Heart (17-1-1), which is ranked 15th in the country by ESPN Rise.

Having already ventured south to San Diego earlier in the season for a pair of nonleague games, the Tologs have dealt with a long road trip before, but Pace is still cognizant of hoping to keep his players on a bus for as short a period of time before the game as possible.

"We don't want to leave our legs in the bus," said Pace, who said with an early enough kickoff, traffic should be avoidable on the way up and the length of the trip shouldn't be too much of a factor. "It will be a very hostile environment, but our kids have seen that before. Our kids just go out and play."

Led by the likes of reigning All-Area Player of the Year Natalie Zeenni and junior forwards Katie Johnson and Breeana Koemans, Sacred Heart is averaging just over three goals per game this season and is coming off a 5-1 win against Foothill to open the playoffs.

Thus, Pace believes his team's offense has proven itself time and time again and it will be the Tologs' defense that is the key to advancing to the CIF quarterfinals for the second season in a row.

"We need to not make any mistakes in the defensive third," Pace said. "I'm pretty confident we'll put a goal on the scoreboard. The question will be how we respond defensively."

Should the Tologs advance, they would head on the road again to face either Newport Harbor or Tesoro, but Pace is certainly not looking past an Aliso Niguel squad that is accustomed to CIF success, having advanced to the semifinals in 2008 and 2009.

"They're a top team," Pace said. "Randy Dodge is a terrific coach. He always gets good players and they always play hard."

In contrast, Chavez admits he does not know too much about Cypress, having heard simply that they're a pesky and physical team that wears down its opposition.

"That's pretty much what I'm getting from the people that have played them," said Chavez, who added that he believes his team can match the opposition's physicality. "Even though we're small, we're pretty physical."

Prep (17-3-2), which is led by the offensive trio of Brooke Elby, Arielle Baptiste and Alina Okamoto among others, is amid its most successful season during Chavez' three years coaching and since the days of Coach Tim Morphy and standout Coco Kleinert.

Having won the program's first outright Prep League title, the team is currently riding a six-game winning streak. However, Chavez was especially pleased with his team's season finale win over Westridge and its 3-1 opening-round win over Diamond Bar.

"The last two games, I've been really happy with the overall play," Chavez said. "From start to finish."

For Flintridge Prep — which would play either top-seeded Ayala or St. Joseph in Thursday's quarterfinal round should advance - to continue that success against Empire League-champion Cypress (17-7), Chavez believes a quick start is crucial.

"We really need to get out and score quickly. That's obviously a difference-maker," Chavez said. "That pretty much sets the tone.

"If we keep on doing that, I really like our chances."

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