Most coaches want their teams to play error-free. Louie Bilowitz, on the other hand, doesn't mind seeing his players make mistakes in the preseason, as long as they're aggressive while doing so.
"I tell them to go ahead and make those mistakes on offense, and eventually they won't be mistakes, they'll learn how to do that," said Bilowitz, who's entering his sixth year as coach of the La Cañada High girls' soccer team.
The Spartans entered the season with the youngest and thinnest team Bilowitz has ever coached. There are five freshman players on varsity this season. Normally, Bilowitz cuts 20 girls in tryouts. This year he cut just two.
The team's goal is to qualify for the CIF Southern Section playoffs, hopefully by winning Rio Hondo League. The Spartans finished 10-2-4 overall last season, finishing second in Rio Hondo League and getting knocked out in the first round of the Division V playoffs.
"I told the team the thing they have to look forward to this year is not the CIF plaque, but the journey we're on," Bilowitz said. "That's the key, how good of a team we'll be at the end of the season, compared to when we started. We're laying the foundations for next year."
The preseason will serve as a baptism by fire for the girls who've never been exposed to the varsity level.
"It's good and it's bad," Bilowitz said. "It's tougher this year, they have to learn things at a higher level, but the reality is two years from now as juniors, these five freshman are going to be absolutely incredible — in the long run, it will pay off."
There is still some experience for La Cañada to draw upon this season. Haley Austin, a first-team All-Rio Hondo League goalie, returns for her junior season in the net for the Spartans.
"I'll take my goalkeeper against any other in the area," Bilowitz said. "She is absolutely a stud. This is going to be a definite Division I goalkeeper in a couple of years."
Megan Siepler, Rio Hondo's Offensive Player of the Year last season, is also returning for her senior season at forward. Siepler has already signed to play soccer for the University of Dubuque, a Division III school in Iowa, after leading her team in goals last year with 25.
Talia Selah, a junior defensive midfielder and La Cañada's lone returning All-CIF player, is coming back from surgery after injuring her knee last season.
"She is the question mark. If she can be two-thirds of what she was last year, she's going to be fantastic and we'll be fine," Bilowitz said.
There are plenty of questions surrounding the Spartans that Bilowitz can't answer yet.
"This is the first team I've ever had where I can't tell how good we're going to be because I don't know how the younger girls are going to develop," Bilowitz said.
Bilowitz has established a team-style of play that should allow his young players to thrive. It's a pass-first offense, using ball movement to create scoring chances.
"We don't have size or great speed, but the key is the system that we play," Bilowitz said. "If they can grasp the system that we play, we'll be fine."