LA CAÑADA — If there was a commonality to the 2012-2013 boys’ soccer season for the La Cañada High, St. Francis and Flintridge Prep programs, it’s that each enjoyed varying levels of success.
Perhaps to no surprise then, all three teams have different outlooks and expectations heading into this upcoming season.
For the last few years, much of the area and beyond has had to find a solution to stopping La Cañada High striker Armand Bagramyan. The senior forward turned in a prolific scoring campaign last season, netting 43 goals, which was second-best in the state according to maxpreps.com, while adding 21 assists.
Bagramyan, however, has left the field as the All-Area Player of the Year graduated, which now creates a problem for the Spartans in dealing with his shadow.
“Armand just did so much for us last year offensively that we’re really going to be a different team this year. He did more than score, though, he gave us an identity and that’s also going to have to change,” Spartans Coach Alex Harrison said. “We’re probably not going to be able to be in those shootouts like last year.
“This year’s team is going to have to grind it out more than ever. If there’s a positive for us, it’s that we’re not going to be so dependent on one guy. We’ll definitely need others to step up.”
For much of last season, the Spartans were ranked No. 1 in the division before struggling down the stretch and finishing second to South Pasadena in the Rio Hondo League race with an 8-1-1 league mark and an 18-4-2 final record. La Cañada was then eliminated in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs by Marshall Fundamental.
The Spartans will likely rely on their defense more and, in particular, on senior goalie Graham Labran-Boyd (13 shutouts and 106 saves) and senior center defender Austin Gartside.
“I’m not about to say what type of formation we’re going to run, but we’re definitely going to look to stop teams,” Harrison said.
Harrison also has a stout defender in senior Joseph Kim, who can either play sweeper or stopper.
While Harrison waits for forward Filip Franke to return from a collarbone injury, he has some solid options in Armaan Zare (eight goals and six assists) at forward, Keivan Meshkat at attacking midfielder and Andrew Meeker (seven assists and four goals) at forward.
“Even though we return nine of 11 starters from last year, we’re going to have a different look,” Harrison said, “but our goals haven’t changed. We’re still looking to win the Rio Hondo League, one way or another.”
While La Cañada is building a new identity, St. Francis is hoping to return to its former, more dominant self.
A young Golden Knights squad took its lumps under veteran coach Glen Appels, only to rebound toward the end of the season in finishing 8-11-5 overall and 5-6-1 in league for third place within the Mission League.
St. Francis won a wild 5-5 (4-3 on penalty kicks) match versus Canyon Springs in the wild-card round before falling in the first round of the Division I playoffs, 6-0, to Palos Verdes.
“The biggest thing last year is we had so many sophomores on varsity and they just didn’t have the experience,” Appels said. “In fact, it was seven sophomores and two freshmen with only five seniors.
“Now all those sophomores are juniors and they have experience and we’re excited about what we have going this year.”
The Golden Knights welcome back senior forward Frankie Veiga, who spent a good portion of last year injured, and an experienced back row in junior defenders Benjamin Gabella, Jason Carmody and Paolo Ramirez.
“I think with this core, we’re not going to be in many shootouts,” Appels said. “Our problem may be more in generating offense.”
Appels is expecting a breakout effort from senior midfielder Griffin O’Brien, who will be paired with freshman Jacob Anderson and junior Carlo Taglioretti.
The trio will attempt to fill the void left by senior Ryan Renn, who is making the switch from halfback to fullback this season, as Renn primarily plays defense with his club team.
One team member that Appels is looking forward to seeing is junior Kareem Zeenni, who is currently kicking for the football team as it advances deep into the postseason.
At Flintridge Prep, the goal is continued progress under second-year coach A.J. Yates, whose team finished 8-9-4 and was second within the Prep League with a 4-1-3 mark.
The Rebels advanced to the postseason and fell in the Division VI first round, 6-0, to Firebaugh.
“We set our goals this year to both wins games and to win league,” Yates said. “The league is looking pretty tough and we graduated a couple of super talented guys. But even so, we return a ton of players and we’re looking to make a run.”
Flintridge Prep lost the services of Prep League Offensive Player of the Year Manny Perez, who scored a team-high 16 goals, and top defender Kurt Kozacik.
However, the Rebels can boast 14 returners, including league first-team striker Cole Rademacher (13 goals and three assists), junior forward Ari Baranian (seven goals) and senior center midfielder Bryce Delgado (four goals).
“I think the biggest hurdle for us is just getting used to playing without Manny,” Yates said. “He was the type of player that took charge and who could take over a game. We don’t have that type of superstar, so this is going to have be a team effort.”
Yates will also lean heavily on senior midfielder Daniel Enzminger (three goals), while the team is happy to see a healthy Tim Bates and new keeper in sophomore Hamilton Evans.