New crop to fill in local girls' soccer fields

With another winter ready to usher in another start to the high school girls' soccer season, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy will once more look to fill the void left by a departing All-Area Player of the Year.

The Tologs will also begin a major renovation as it relates to the coaching ranks.

As La Cañada looks to carry over the momentum of a CIF quarterfinal run, it must fill some huge holes left by decorated graduated mainstays.

Flintridge Prep boasts a steady stream of returning talent, but for a second straight season finds itself needing to replace its top scorer while looking to win a third Prep League crown in a row.

No matter the team, there are myriad changes as the 2012-13 season kicks off.

Sacred Heart, which followed up a CIF Southern Section Division I and Mission League championship in 2011 with a second-place league mark and a first-round playoff loss, must move on with the losses of graduated seniors such as All-Area Player of the Year Breeana Koemans — who followed a two-year run of Tologs defender Natalie Zeenni winning the award — Katie Johnson and Tera Trujillo, among others. Of course Johnson and Trujillo were already gone all of last year with knee injuries, as much of the story for last season's Tologs was trying to overcome injuries.

Now, this year's Tologs welcome back senior midfielder Krista Meaglia, who was lost all of last year with a knee injury, as one of a great deal of experienced senior standouts.

"We have a seasoned defensive core and some fast, talented offensive players," said first-year Tologs Coach Cesar Hidalgo, who previously coached at Crescenta Valley and assisted the Tologs last season. "We are not 18 deep as we have been in previous years, but if we can keep our best 16 healthy we will be fun to watch."

Hidalgo's arrival means the departure, of sorts, of longtime and hugely successful co-coaches Frank Pace and Kathy Desmond. Pace will stay on as the associate coach, while Desmond is the coach emeritus.

Along with plenty of experience on the sideline, Sacred Heart has eight seniors with starting experience, led by Meaglia, defender Sarah Teegarden and Kayla Mills, who could play forward, midfielder and defender.

"We saw the character of this team last year when we lost Katie Johnson, Tera Trujillo and Krista Meaglia for the season and then Jill Jacobs and Savannah Viola went down midway," Pace said. "We got to transition our team last year. Kids like [Kendall] Sandoval, [Hailey] James, [Miranda] Saldivar and [Claire] Kostelnik stepped into starting roles and demonstrated just how deep this squad is. Now they are a year older and ready for the battles of Mission League."

Teegarden, Sandoval and Kostelnik will key the backline, while sophomore standout Hannah Armendariz returns to provide a dynamic offensive punch along with Meaglia and Mills as the Tologs take on a Mission League that is always rigorous with rivals such as Harvard-Westlake and Chaminade.

Flintridge Prep will be in search of some offensive punch after losing leading goal scorer Arielle Baptiste, not to mention multi-season starters Connell Studenmund and Kate Lyon.

"We lost three big players last year," said Rebels Coach Esteban Chavez, whose team won its third straight Prep League crown before getting bounced via penalty kicks in the opening round of the CIF Southern Section Division III playoffs. "We have the core [coming back]. I have high expectations because we have eight returning starters. They've experienced success, so that's the reason for the expectations."

Leading the way is likely to be standout senior goalie Casey Cousineau, who will have an experienced backline in front of her that includes seniors Whitney Cohen, Chelsea Johnson, Jordan Hutson, who missed all of last year with an injury, and Abby Letts, who will also play in the midfield.

"Our strength has been that we defend well," Chavez said.

Offensively, much of the load will rest upon the feet of senior Kaelin King, the team's second-leading goal scorer a year ago, and the shoulders of Chavez, according to the coach.

"We can make something with what we have," said Chavez, who expects Pasadena Poly and Mayfield to be strong contenders to take the Rebels from their Prep League perch. "We have to be creative with how we score."

La Cañada will have to be creative in how it defends.

With the departure of goalie Haley Austin, an All-Area and All-CIF honoree along with fellow graduate Talia Saleh, Spartans Coach Louie Bilowitz finds himself without an experienced goalie throughout his program.

"I have no one that's ever been in goal before," said Bilowitz, whose team took second in the Rio Hondo League before advancing to the CIF Southern Section Division VI quarterfinals a season ago. "It's gonna be a challenge for us, but we'll try not to give up a lot of shots.

"I've never had a situation like this in 25 years of coaching. The rest of us have to rise to the occasion."

The rest of the team is brimming with youth, but likewise talent.

"No. 1, we're young, I only have one senior," Bilowitz said. "I have a very talented team, one of the best I've had in a longtime.

"I've got enough talent that we'll score goals."

The lone senior is reigning all-league selection Kara Lankey, who previously played defense, but played forward in club and will do so as well in college at the University of Pacific. Hence, Bilowitz is putting Lankey at forward.

"She made a sacrifice for me the last two years, so now I need to reward her for her sacrifice," Bilowitz said.

Bilowitz is rewarded with the returns of decorated sophomore standouts Natalie Ragusa, who will play midfielder and forward, and Megan Decker, a midfielder, along with junior defender Olivia Leyva. Rosie Quezada, a freshman, also figures to be a big-time player on the backline.

Along with their goalie problems, the Spartans also figure to be in a battle atop the Rio Hondo League, with defending champion South Pasadena, a CIF semifinalist a year ago, and San Marino expected to be formidable.

"It'll be a very interesting season," Bilowitz said. "I'm very pleased with the team, they're great kids."

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