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Girls’ soccer preview: La Cañada hopes experience will fuel bounce-back season

Photo Gallery: Flintridge Prep vs. La Cañada non-league girls’ soccer ends in 1-1 tie
La Cañada High girls’ soccer coach Kevin Neumeier and his Spartans will look for a turn-around this season after not making the playoffs last season.
(File Photo)

The La Cañada High girls’ soccer team has much to prove entering a new season.

Last year, the Spartans lost eight starters to graduation and went on to finish 5-11-1, 2-5-1 for last in the Rio Hondo League.

La Cañada coach Kevin Neumeier is returning a solid senior class with a blend of experienced underclassmen.

For Flintridge Sacred Heart and Flintridge Prep, both enjoyed a wealth of success last season and have their share of returning talent that they hope will continue to fuel their respective squads.

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Here is a vloser look at the teams.

LA CAÑADA

“The biggest thing is for us to play our own game and giving 100 percent effort,” Neumeier said. “We’ve had a lot of talks already this year about last year’s effort. In all aspects of the game, we’re at the level we need to be. I think it was the first year where they just kept going out there and expected a top-two finish, first or second place, what we’ve gotten in the last few years.”

The Spartans’ lone league victories came from their first meeting against Monrovia in their opener, 5-0, and Temple City, 2-1, at the halfway point.

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La Cañada finished the second half of league with one tie and three losses to end the season. A key twist in this season’s league campaign is a new coach at South Pasadena, the two-time defending Rio Hondo League champion.

“Last year was the rude awakening that you can’t do that,” Neumeier said. “You have to put in the work. You have to put in the effort every single game because you never know what can happen. That’s my biggest thing I’m looking for. Walk off the field knowing you gave everything you can in that particular game.”

Leading the starting 11 will be first-team all-league selection Caroline Dick, who transitioned to the centerback position last season and excelled for Neumeier.

Alongside her will be a trio of seniors in winger Makenna Burnham and versatile pair Avery Romero and Natalie Hippolyte. Neumeier said Romero and Hippolyte will provide depth in certain positions for the Spartans in different game scenarios.

“I expect them to be the leaders on the team and set the example of what we’re trying to do by getting the team to come together and play the way we want to play,” Neumeier said.

Spearheading the defense will be junior goalkeeper Ashley Schafer, and another key returner will be sophomore holding midfielder Jenna Milbrodt, who was bestowed all-league second-team honors last season.

“She’s a beast there,” said Neumeier of Milbrodt. “She never stops working and that’s probably why she’s successful in cross-country, too. She pushes herself so hard and fights for everything. For a freshmen to get second-team in midfield last year was pretty impressive.”

New additions to the team are freshmen Grace Patton and Katherine Mispeigel.

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“They both come with a lot of ability and a lot of skills,” Neumeier said. “The nice thing about the freshmen is when I tell them that you can’t back down and be afraid. Those two definitely don’t back down and aren’t afraid to go up against any 18-year-old senior. It’ll be fun to watch them for the next four years and just progress and get better.”

FLINTRIDGE SACRED HEART ACADEMY

Flintridge Sacred Heart struggled during the first part of last season before turning things around and achieving plenty of postseason success.

Flintridge Sacred Heart finished 14-5-3, 3-2-3 in the Mission League for second place and reached the CIF Southern Section Division III championship match, falling, 1-0, to top-seeded Oak Hills. However, second-seeded Flintridge Sacred Heart regrouped a week later to win the CIF Southern California Regional Division III title with a 3-0 victory against No. 5 Culver City at St. Francis High.

“What we were able to do last year was quite impressive and we had to rebuild our defense for the most part,” Flintridge Sacred Heart coach Mark Snashall said. “We had some rough stretches early in the season, but we believed in our players and system so that we could have some success.

“Now that they’ve gotten a taste of what it’s like to win, they want another taste of it. We gained a lot of experience and we can draw from that. We just have to be ready to show up and play.”

The Tologs return junior forward/midfielder Madison Leroy, who received an All-CIF Southern Section nod after registering 25 goals and nine assists for 59 points last season.

Leroy will be joined by senior midfielders Hillary Howard and Madeleine Hara and junior goalkeeper Joshlyn Aguirre.

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The Tologs will now reside in Division II.

FLINTRIDGE PREP

After winning the Division III championship in 2018, Flintridge Prep went 22-1-1, 10-0 in the Prep League for first place last season. Flintridge Prep won its fourth consecutive league championship and earned the top seed in the Division II playoffs before falling to visiting Moorpark, 2-1, in a second-round contest.

Expect the Rebels to look vastly different this season, Flintridge Prep coach Esteban Chavez said.

“We’ve lost a lot of players, especially up front,” Chavez said. “But, we’ve established a culture and a set of standards that we go by and the expectations are to win. I think we have enough to be able to win league again and then we’ll go from there.”

Flintridge Prep won’t be short on talent, as it brings back junior forward/midfielder Mckenna Dominguez. Dominguez finished with 36 goals and 35 assists for 107 points last season en route to receiving All-CIF accolades.

Also expected to pave the way for the Rebels, who have been moved to Division III, are senior defender Natalie Brown, junior defender Melanie Ng and sophomore forward/centerback Kylie Oh.

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