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, to be exact.
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 Flintridge Prep and La Cañada High programs.
The Rebels won their first-ever outright Prep League crown before advancing all the way to the Division III quarterfinals. The Spartans won the Rio Hondo League title and reached the second round of the playoffs with a young team.
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 on and on.
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 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.
And 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 in the least.
"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, referencing 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."
La Cañada Coach Louie Bilowitz doesn't quite know what to expect from his team this season with 13 of his 17 players in the freshmen and sophomore classes.
As a young squad, the Spartans lack a strong, physical presence that senior-led teams boast. Bilowitz still has plenty to be excited about this year, though.
"We will still play some pretty soccer," said Bilowitz, who is entering his seventh year coaching La Cañada. "This team can play the style of soccer I enjoy coaching. We'll be keeping the ball on the ground and maintaining possession... We have speed and this team's touch has improved over last years."
To compensate for their lack of physicality, the Spartans are running a 4-2-3-1 formation this year, opposed to the 4-4-2 they ran last year.
"That will give us four defenders and two defensive midfielders and that will help us on defense," Bilowitz said. "I don't have a defensive midfielder strong enough physically this year so we'll stack up the middle.
"We will sacrifice some of that offense to build a strong defense."
Haley Austin, La Cañada's senior goalie, will look to anchor her team defensively.
At least three freshmen — Francesca Mor, Megan Decker and Natalie Regussa — will be asked to start for the Spartans this year, Bilowitz said. Mor, will be key to La Cañada's offense, as she'll serve as the team's lone forward and Decker and Regussa will join a talented midfield.
Senior midfielders Morgan Rittichier and Talia Saleh will move the ball up the field for the Spartans this year.
"I hope our upper classmen will lead the way for the others to follow," Bilowitz said.
Saleh set a school-record for assists with 31 last year and had nine goals and earned all-league and area honors. Miranda Dimase-Nordling, a sophomore, will join Rittichier as an outside midfielder.
With the young squad, Bilowitz doesn't offer any predictions for the year.
"I never talk to the girls about winning, I talk to them about the journey of the year and becoming the best we can become by the end of the year," Bilowitz said. "I can't predict where we'll be because we're so young. I don't know how they will handle the pressure of the varsity team. We will see how they adjust."