GLENDALE — Publicly, at least, St. Margaret's girls' soccer Coach Johnny Marmelstein is all but waving the white flag concerning his team's match with Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy today in the semifinal round of the CIF Southern California Division III Regional Soccer Championships.
"We're the Division VI champs for a reason," said Marmelstein, whose fifth-seeded team beat San Dimas, 2-0, for the CIF Southern Section Division VI title on Friday, the same day the Tologs beat San Clemente, 1-0, for the Division I crown. "We're a small school, we're not a Division I team.
"We have had a great run this season, but we know the carriage is going to turn into a pumpkin real soon."
Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy co-Coach Frank Pace, however, isn't buying a word of it.
"This is a trap game for us," said Pace, whose Mission League-champion team is the No. 1 seed, as well as the Southern California Division III defending champion, and will host the match at 4 p.m. at Occidental College. "They are a Mission League-caliber team and they know it. Our coaching staff won't be lulled to sleep by this and our goal is to make sure that our kids don't.
"Quite honestly, our kids will know in the first 10 minutes that they're in with a very, very good team. …They're a small school, but so are we and look what we did."
The Tartans' own impressive list of accomplishments lends some credence to Pace's appraisal. St. Margaret's (26-2-1) is the unbeaten champion of the Academy League and hasn't lost a match since Dec. 11. In the postseason, the Tartans have put up 22 goals to just four allowed in six games, including Tuesday's 2-1 defeat of Central Valley Christian in the regional tournament opening round.
But the Tologs (22-1-1) have already cut a path through the toughest division in the Section, a feat which has elevated them to the No. 1 ranking in the nation, according to the latest ESPN Rise poll.
The defense, led by Katelyn Almeida, Natalie Zeenni, Alexa Montgomery, Kayla Mills and Tera Trujillo, was at the forefront of Sacred Heart's biggest playoff wins over Esperanza in the Section semis and San Clemente.
But lest the stellar defense of those two squads cause anyone to forget the Tologs' scoring capabilities, Tuesday's 6-1 first-round win over Horizon Christian could serve as a reminder.
Katie Johnson and Savannah Viola each had two goals in that win and the Tologs have several others capable of a similar outburst in Breeana Koemans, Jill Jacobs, Alyssa Conti and so on.
"They have 18 premier players, we have a few," Marmelstein said. "We're outnumbered and outgunned. They have a great team and they're very well coached."
St. Margaret's top offensive weapons are freshman forward Alexa Barbaresi, who has 19 goals on the year, and junior midfielder McCaully Patch, who has scored 16 goals and assisted on a team-leading 22 goals.
"We have an idea [of how they like to play] but we've mostly gone into every tournament game just trying to execute our game plan," Pace said. "We're not going to make any adjustments for them. We'll try to dictate the pace of play and hopefully that's something that they may have to adjust to for us."
Montgomery and Mills sat out Tuesday's win with quadriceps injuries and, while Pace said both are at 80-90% for today, he would like to avoid having to lean on them too much.
"They're still concerns, we're trying to manage resources here," Pace said. "Obviously we've got throw everything at St. Margaret's because if we leave anything behind, there's not going to be anything to save them for.
"We'll try to play at least one of the two, unless situations late in the game dictate we have to play them both."
Should Sacred Heart get past St. Margaret's, it would meet either third-seeded Oaks Christian or No. 2 The Bishop's School in the finals at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Warren High in Downey.