NORTHEAST GLENDALE — Two games, two wins, two shutouts and all seems to be rolling along as planned for the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy soccer team in its annual Los Tacos Holiday Festival.
“It was a good day overall. We started to see some things that we’ve been working on jell,” said Tologs co-Coach Frank Pace, whose team opened up tournament pool play on Tuesday at the Glendale Sports Complex with a 6-0 drubbing of Santa Maria St. Joseph before defeating Royal, 3-0, in the afternoon cap. “We’re about where we were last year at this point.”
Which is great news for the Tologs (7-1), who are the defending CIF Southern Section Division I and Mission League champions. Currently, they’re looking to win their third straight Los Tacos title. They’ve won or shared the tournament crown four out of six years that the tournament — which has undergone its share of name changes — has existed.
Sacred Heart won its fourth consecutive game against Royal (7-4-2) on Tuesday afternoon and tallied its fourth shutout of the season.
“It’s definitely starting to come together real well,” said Sacred Heart senior Lauren Torres of the team’s defense.
The Tologs, in general, have been a mixed-and-matched group for much of the season with the All-Area and All-CIF trio of Katie Johnson, Krista Meaglia and Tera Trujillo all nursing injuries and other starters missing games for various reasons.
“We’ve all had really good attitudes about it,” said Torres, who had a goal and an assist against Royal, of the different lineups and players playing different positions. “We’re starting to get into a groove.”
While the offense is averaging more than four goals a game, the defense has struggled at times, but seems to be on point as of late.
A few factors loom large in that department. The return of senior standouts Alexa Montgomery and Katelyn Almeida has certainly helped, all four shutouts have come with junior Sarah Teegarden playing in the back and sophomore Kendall Sandoval has solidified herself as a starter.
“She solidified our defense and allowed us to keep Kayla [Mills] up top, which has been a great help,” Pace said.
Senior goalie Lindsey Espe needed to make just three saves in tallying the shutout against Royal, while she combined with sophomore Dani Garcia in net for the shutout against St. Joseph (3-6-2).
Against St. Joseph, Sacred Heart got a goal and two assists from Mills, two goals from senior Jill Jacobs and single tallies from freshman Hanna Armendariz and junior Savanah Viola.
Senior standout Breeana Koemans also had a goal and an assist and, midway through the second half against Royal, scored again off a Mills assist. It was Koemans’ team-leading ninth goal of the season — she’s scored a goal in every Tologs win — to go with eight assists, while it was Mills’ team-leading eighth assist.
Sacred Heart, ranked 16th nationally by ESPN HS and No. 1 in CIF Southern Section Division I, got on board against Royal in just the second minute when Torres boomed in a direct kick, after Koemans was fouled, from roughly 40 yards away. Possessing arguably the area’s strongest leg, Torres’ accuracy isn’t always pinpoint, but was in this instance and was good enough to set up the next goal.
“I haven’t been doing very well with my kicks, but every once in a while, I get lucky,” said Torres of her goal. “I was pretty happy about it.”
In the 19th minute — all tournament games are shortened to 30-minute halves — Torres let fly on another free kick that was on frame, but headed away by a Royal defender and right to Armendariz, who scored on a shot from roughly 12 yards out that squeezed inside the near post.
A beautiful sequence that saw Koemans pass to Viola, who one-touched to Mills up top, who then found Koemans in the center of the field, ended when Koemans drilled a mid-range shot for a 3-0 lead in the second half.
Sacred Heart will play nonleague rival Saugus — a recent regular in the tournament, which also faced Sacred Heart in consecutive seasons in the playoffs — at 11:30 a.m. today, with the winner advancing to the tournament championship at 3:45 p.m. The winner could likely be headed for a finals showdown with Corona del Mar, the fourth-ranked team in Division I and 10th-ranked in ESPN HS, which went 2-0 on Tuesday and will face West Ranch at 11:30 a.m. today. West Ranch needs a win to advance to the finals, while CdM can tie or win to move on.
“I like the way everything’s coming together right now,” said Pace, whose team opens league play against archrival Harvard-Westlake on Jan. 4. “It gets tougher every day from now on.”