In the chronicle of area soccer, there has never been a season as phenomenally successful as the 2010-11 tour de force put forth by Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy.
Beginning with a run through the always-arduous Mission League and the subsequent emergence as its champion, Sacred Heart then navigated its way through nationally ranked Orange Country competition before defeating San Clemente, 1-0, in the last of a string of nailbiting victories that bestowed the Tologs with their first-ever CIF divisional crown — the CIF Southern Section Division I championship.
It was the first Division I soccer crown won by an area girls' team and capped a truly remarkable season.
For all the triumph experienced by the Tologs, there was also plenty more within the Crescenta Valley and Flintridge Prep programs.
The Falcons won their third consecutive Pacific League title, while the Rebels won their first outright Prep League crown before advancing all the way to the Division III quarterfinals.
Indeed, it was a soccer season brimming with highlights led most assuredly by the Tologs' phenomenal run. After all was said and done at the conclusion of the 23-2-1 season, a cavalcade of all-state, All-CIF, All-Area and all-league honors were bestowed upon the likes of Natalie Zeenni, Katie Johnson, Breeana Koemans, Krista Meaglia, Kayla Mills, Tera Trujillo, Alexa Montgomery and others.
Thus, the Tologs enter this season with heavy expectations and lofty standing, including No. 1 rankings nationally atop the ESPN High School rankings and in CIF Southern Section Division I.
For Tologs co-Coach Frank Pace, however, he said the team will maintain the same outlook from past seasons.
"I think we'll start the season the same way we started last season with the goal to win the Mission League. Winning our league is as hard as anything we do," Pace said. "Our goal every year is to win Mission League and advance as deep into the playoffs as possible."
At first glance, last year's squad had minimal losses coming into this year. But the loss of three-year starter Zeenni is obviously a large one, as she was a focal point in the program's two most successful seasons ever and was the All-Area Girls' Soccer Player of the Year after both and was the 2011 News-Press Female Athlete of the Year. In addition, the USC-bound Johnson, the New Mexico-bound Trujillo and Meaglia, who scored the CIF-title winning goal against San Clemente, have all incurred serious knee injuries and undergone offseason surgery.
"We are approaching the whole season as if the three of them will not play," Pace said. "If we have them, they will be a pleasant reintroduction to what we think is a very good team nonetheless.
"No matter how much we'd like them on the field, we are not going to push their rehab schedule."
Still, there is talent everywhere for the Tologs, much of it university bound.
Koemans (Northeastern) will likely start at midfield, with Mills (USC) moving up top and likely to be joined by ballyhooed freshman Hanna Armendariz, a 14U U.S. National team player. Jill Jacobs (Loyola Marymount) is also likely to play forward, while Sarah Teegarden (Wake Forest) could play midfield or defense. The defense is likely to be anchored by Montgomery (Arizona), Katelyn Almeida (New Mexico) and Lauren Torres, with Lindsey Espe (Belmont) in net after a clutch playoff run in goal.
"We'll score a lot of goals, we'll play great defense and we'll go as far as our goalkeeping takes us," Pace said.
One other addition to Sacred Heart, will be Cesar Hidalgo, a former CV coach, who will be director of coaching for the program and could very well be the apparent successor down the line for Pace and Kathy Desmond.
"This is the beginning of the transition," Pace said.
As for the Tologs being content with reaching the pinnacle of CIF success a season ago, Pace doesn't believe that will be an issue.
"At this level, coaches don't motivate players, you have to be self-motivated," he said. "They will be motivated just based on who they are. It's in the fabric of who they are to compete."
Much like Sacred Heart, Flintridge Prep lost few players to graduation, but in leading scorer Brooke Elby have a significant departure to deal with along with a slew of offseason injuries. Not the least of which is defender Connell Studenmund, an All-Area, All-CIF and Prep League Defensive Player of the Year last year, who is recovering from a partially torn knee ligament.
Returning starter Jordan Hutson, a defender, is out for the year, while junior forward Samantha Davies and sophomore midfielder Kaitlin Liston are also significantly injured and it's uncertain when they'll return.
On top of that, in the team's search for a third straight Prep League title, Coach Esteban Chavez believes the league will be top-heavy once again.
"It's gonna be the same thing where any of the [top] four teams [Prep, Pasadena Poly, Chadwick and Mayfield] can win league, but that's the goal [is to win league]," Chavez said. "We want to compete for the league title."
Crucial to that will be the offensive leadership of Arielle Baptiste, an All-Area selection last year.
"I'm expecting a lot out of her," Chavez said. "I'm looking for her to pick up the offense."
Defense is likely to be the strength, though, beginning with All-CIF and All-Area junior goalie Casey Cousineau.
"She is a big-time goalie," Chavez said.
Juniors Whitney Cohen and Abby Letts will also return to bolster the backline.
"We're solid in back," said Chavez in reference to his defenders, goalie and defensive midfielders, including Kate Lyon. "As far as high expectations, that whole core is a strength. That's gonna really give us an opportunity to win games."
While Prep aims for a third straight league title, Crescenta Valley has already notched a three-peat, but was stopped in the first round of the Division II playoffs last season. Hence, second-year Coach Jorden Schulz and a group of Falcons with plenty of starting experience will look to fend off Pacific League opponents looking to knock off the longtime champs and vastly improve their playoff fate.
"I think the expectation's there, I think the desire's more there because we have more upperclassmen. We were kind of young last year … and they've matured," Schulz said. "Obviously, a league title is what we're striving for — hopefully an undefeated league season — and we want to make it farther than the first round of the playoffs.
"I do know being a three-peater in league, we're gonna get everybody's best game."
The trio of Mallory Carcich, Dani Busta and Sara Worden return to the backline to fortify what was the team's overwhelming strength a season ago.
"I think the focal point last year was defense, I think that's a carryover," Schulz said.
Offensively, the Falcons have struggled a bit the last two seasons, but Schulz expects that to improve. Likely to lead the charge, as she has in many ways over her first two years in the program, will be Sierra Rhoads, a junior forward, along with the likes of juniors Katie Callister and Whitley Boller.
"We need to progress forward," Schulz said. "We have a year under our belt now. They know what I expect from them, I think the maturity level is higher.
"They're itching to get out there, they want to play."
And, as an added plus, there was the likelihood that Schulz would miss some significant time with the birth of her first child, but she and her husband welcomed a three-week early arrival and with mom and baby both healthy, everything seems to have worked out extra well.
"That actually was pretty perfect timing," Schulz said. "I'll be there for everything."
Glendale, Hoover and Holy Family weren't quite as fortunate when it came to claiming highlights, as all three teams struggled at different levels and all three came well short of the playoffs.
The Nitros, under second-year Coach Victor Aquino, are optimistic despite a relatively young and inexperienced squad coming off a 4-12-4 season.
"We're doing pretty good considering how young we are," Aquino said. "This is a rebuilding season, but it's looking good right now.
"We really want to make playoffs this year, I really think we can compete for that fourth [automatic playoff] spot at the least."
For that to happen, the Nitros will rely on a core of midfielders that consists of Ashley Aquino, Andrea Millan and Aline Graham that figures to be the team's strength."
Hoover likewise struggled a season ago, going 4-11-2. Second-year Coach Donal Kennedy has some uncertainty to deal with going forward, despite a trio of promising sophomores in forward Talin Kojababian, midfielder Audra Paik and defender Tyra Williams.
"The core of the team is young and inexperienced," Kennedy said. "On a bad day [our goal] could be, can we field a team and on a good day it could be contending for a playoff spot. Realistically, making ourselves as competitive as possible and playing some decent football [are our aspirations]."
Glendale Adventist Academy's program will begin its second season in existence. The Cougars, who went 2-9-1 overall and in the Liberty League for fifth place, lost more than half of their team to graduation.
Glendale Adventist Coach Lemar Sandiford said the Cougars will look to strengthen the team's foundation with senior forward Melissa Yeghiazarian, senior midfielder Melissa Salazar and senior goalkeeper/defender Victoria Osby leading the way.
"We are excited about getting out there to play," Sandiford said. "The practices have been going very well."
Holy Family, coming off a winless campaign that followed a run of postseason appearances, is not off to a great start, as the team is without a coach. Ernest Siy, the Gaels' athletic director, stated that the school hopes to have a coach hired before month's end.