Espe saves, Tologs prevail

GLENDALE — The area's top-10 individual performances in a team setting from the 2010-11 season were selected by the Glendale News-Press sports department.

1 Espe saves Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy with brilliant goaltending, Feb. 22 — In their quest to win the program's first CIF Southern Section Division championship, the top-seeded Tologs needed to overcome a few anxious moments in the playoffs. Flintridge Sacred Heart found itself in that situation during a Division I second-round match against host Aliso Niguel High.

Flintridge Sacred Heart goalkeeper Lindsey Espe stepped to the forefront and kept the Tologs' season alive, stopping three penalty kicks in a 0-0 (4-3) win.

"I honestly don't even know what to say, that was an incredible feeling," said Espe, who stopped Ashley McCutcheon's penalty-kick attempt after Flintridge Sacred Heart's Tera Trujillo had converted her attempt to help the Tologs advance.

Espe had lost her starting job toward the end of the regular season. However, Flintridge Sacred Heart co-Coaches Frank Pace and Kathy Desmond regained their faith that Espe could rise to the challenge in the postseason and she eventually backstopped the Tologs to the CIF title.

"What can you say about Lindsey?" Desmond said. "She came through."

2 Zeenni's defensive prowess carries Flintridge Sacred Heart to CIF glory, March 4 — All season long, Natalie Zeenni played a large role in shaping the foundation and ultimately the success of the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy soccer team. From the season opener until the final whistle of the CIF Southern Section Division I championship match against San Clemente, Zeenni never let down.

The defender played her best when it mattered most, particularly in the Division I title match against San Clemente at Mission Viejo High.

Zeenni, the reigning All-Area Girls' Soccer Player of the Year, stopped two shots near the goal line in a scoreless battle before Sacred Heart's Krista Meaglia scored in the 69th minute. It was Flintridge Sacred Heart's third Zeenni-led shutout in the playoffs.

"I knew it was gonna be a really tough game from the beginning," Zeenni said. "I knew I was gonna have to bring it."

3 Kaplanyan comes through with magnificent playoff effort, Nov. 9, 2010 — Handling most of the goal-scoring responsibilities has been nothing new to Hoover High's Hakop Kaplanyan, the reigning All-Area Boys' Water Polo Player of the Year. After scoring a state-best 229 goals during the 2009-10 season, Kaplanyan entered this past season being handed more defensive chores to make him a more complete player. Kaplanyan led the area with 138 goals this season, proving he hadn't lost his scoring touch.

That proved to be the case when he scored 15 goals to lead the Tornadoes to a 16-12 victory against Cathedral City in a CIF Southern Section Division V wild-card match at Burbank High.

"He definitely was extremely effective," Hoover Coach Ara Oganesyan said. "When he was playing focused, when he was playing in the system, he was doing well."

4 Verso's late-match dramatics powers St. Francis to playoff victory, Feb. 18 — Despite battling a nagging hamstring injury throughout most of the season, Eric Verso showed he could still be an offensive force for the St. Francis soccer team.

Throughout the bulk of Verso's career, he found ways to score clutch goals for the Golden Knights. That proved to be the case during St. Francis' CIF Southern Section Division I opening-round match against visiting Thousand Oaks.

Verso scored a pair of goals, including the match winner with two minutes left, to power St. Francis to a 2-1 victory. Verso scored in the 57th minute to give the Golden Knights a 1-0 advantage before Thousand Oaks tied it with four minutes left in regulation.

"A lot of guys get a little nervous in the big games, but those are the moments I play for, this is why I play soccer," said Verso, a former All-Area Player of the Year.

5 Smith's big performance lifts Flintridge Prep to first CIF championship, March 5 — All season long, Flintridge Prep boys' basketball player Kenyatta Smith proved to be the center of attention for a Rebels' team while chasing after the program's first CIF title.

After averaging double-digits in the first four games of the playoffs, Smith's best effort came in the CIF Southern Section Division V-AA championship with top-seeded Flintridge Prep facing third-seeded Muir in the CIF Southern Section Division V-AA championship game at Mater Dei High.

On the biggest stage, Smith didn't disappoint and capped his four-year career in style. Smith finished with 15 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks in Flintridge Prep's 47-44 victory.

"The entire team helped me get better this year," said Smith, the reigning All-Area Player of the Year. "I could see the potential that we had."

6 Ashby's bat and arm do it all in key league win for Crescenta Valley, May 3 — With an opportunity to pull into a tie for first place with Burroughs in the Pacific League, Crescenta Valley starting pitcher Erin Ashby took full advantage of it with her stellar pitching and hitting.

Crescenta Valley got even with Burroughs with a 5-2 victory at home. Burroughs won the first meeting, 8-2, giving Ashby additional incentive to carry her team. In the circle, Ashby allowed one earned run on seven hits and struck out five in going the distance. At the plate, she recorded three hits and drove in three runs.

"Today was a big win and everybody did their part to contribute to it," Ashby said.

Ashby gave Crescenta Valley a 2-0 lead with a two-run home run in the first inning. She then had a single and drove in the game-winning run with a single in the fourth.

7 Van der Goot shines in the circle in playoff opener for Flintridge Prep, May 19 — The Flintridge Prep softball team posted a 2-1 victory against visiting Santa Paula with a run-scoring single in the bottom of the seventh by Rachel Simon.

Up to that point, Flintridge Prep starting pitcher Denise van der Goot had been the story of the CIF Southern Section Division VI first-round playoff contest.

Van der Goot, who helped the Rebels share the Prep League championship for the first time since 1995, struck out 16 and scattered two hits to pick up the win. The right-hander allowed no earned runs and no walks.

"I was confident we were going to get the run," van der Goot said. "We'd been hitting the ball hard all game. We had a moment. We had to take it."

8 Nelson's numbers lead to near upset playoff victory for St. Francis, Nov. 19, 2010 — Brett Nelson excelled throughout the season as St. Francis' quarterback. After the Golden Knights wrapped up a spot in the CIF Southern Section Western Division playoffs, Nelson and Co. found themselves pitted against second-seeded Dominguez in a first-round road game. Though St. Francis didn't win, Nelson did everything he could.

Nelson, the reigning All-Area Player of the Year, completed 16 of 27 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns and scored on a two-point conversion in St. Francis' 28-25 loss.

Nelson tossed a 48-yard pass attempt to wide receiver Travis Talianko in the closing moments of the game, but the pass fell just out of Talianko's reach.

Nelson threw three touchdowns to Talianko. He also fought through two tacklers for a two-point conversion run that made the score 28-25 with 8:27 left in the game.

"I thought Brett played his best game of the year in the biggest game of the year," Bonds said. "I'm very proud of him."

Nelson connected with Talianko on touchdowns of 25, 25 and five yards.

9 Atanackovic nets hat trick to clinch league championship for Crescenta Valley, Feb. 8 — Pavle Atanackovic, a junior forward on the Crescenta Valley High boys' soccer team, enjoyed his best season. He finished with a team-high 33 goals and 70 points en route to being named the Pacific League's Most Valuable Player.

Atanackovic's three biggest goals came against visiting Glendale, as host Crescenta Valley posted a 3-0 win and clinched the league championship for the second season in a row.

The Falcons took a 1-0 lead when Atanackovic headed in a free kick by Alex Berger in the 37th minute. Atanackovic made it 2-0 in the 52nd minute off a pass from Erick Trejo and he completed his effort in the 75th minute off an assist from Eric Keshishian.

10 Pule runs and throws way to victory for Hoover, Sept. 24, 2010 — The Hoover High football team finished its season 1-9, and 0-7 in the Pacific League. However, for one night, Hoover quarterback AJ Pule showed he could dominate.

During a nonleague road game against Mountain View, Pule completed 20 of 33 passes for 354 yards, including four touchdown passes to receiver Dymond McRae, in a 45-38 win.

Pule rescued Hoover, tossing a touchdown pass and rushing for two more in the fourth quarter. The Tornadoes saw the Vikings rally to take a 30-27 lead with 10:53 left in the contest. On the ensuing possession, Pule tossed a 40-yard strike to McRae to make it 33-30.

Pule, who also ran for 91 yards in nine carries, then scored on a one-yard run to extend Hoover's lead to 39-30 with 3:20 left and then concluded his standout performance by breaking a tackle for a 54-yard touchdown run a minute later to make it 45-30.

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