Foothill League play starts today for six local girls soccer teams, and for the last five years, Hart has been the team to beat.
The Indians have not lost a league game in fives seasons, going 37-0-14 in that span. They gave up only two goals in league play last season.
“When you have a successful year, it’s not an easy thing to repeat, so I think as we keep winning you have to make sure the girls stay focused,” Hart head coach Guilherme Mitrovitch said. “It’s not easy to continue that success, so we try to keep the girls humble and with their feet on the ground.
“Teams want to win every game, but I do think there is an extra motivation for teams when they play us, because if they beat us it means they are doing good things.There is an extra target on our backs, but we’re up for the challenge. We accept it and embrace it and it’s up to us to keep that streak going.”
The Indians finished 2-2-1 in preleague, playing tough competition to help prepare themselves for league. They advanced to the quarterfinals in the Aliso Cup and also tied Harvard-Westlake, a top-ranked team in CIF-Southern Section Division 1.
Mitrovitch said he has been scheduling top-notch opponents in preleague the past few years to help prepare his team for any new challenges they might face during the season.
“I’m purposely starting with a tough preleague schedule so we get tested and we can see different types of teams, formations and offenses that we have to deal with,” he said. “I think that the fact that we’re playing some big schools like Harvard-Westlake, South Hills, Los Alamitos, facing that type of competition, if you can compete with them you’re ready for any type of team.”
Hart will open conference play against Golden Valley, a team that has struggled the past two seasons going winless in league.
New head coach Michela James is a Golden Valley graduate, having played for the Grizzlies soccer team all four years of high school.
“Sometimes when you change coaches it can give energy, people trying to prove things, it brings the mood up. So we’re going to make sure were matching their intensity and we just play our game,” Mitrovitch said about facing Golden Valley. “League is a marathon, so it’s important to be consistent. It’s a fight and you have 10 rounds and tomorrow we have our first round.”
The two teams will face off at 3:15 p.m. in a home tilt for Golden Valley.
For Canyon, last year’s 12-8-2 record and second-place finish in the conference was the best season the Cowboys had since the 2013-14 campaign in which they finished 14-8-4.
The Cowboys got off to a slow start in preleague this year, finishing 1-2-1 and only scoring a total of three goals in their four matches.
It doesn’t get any easier for Canyon, who will open league play against a West Ranch team that hasn’t lost yet this season.
However, the Cowboys did beat the Wildcats twice last year, something that West Ranch head coach Jared White hasn’t forgotten about.
“For us, and I told them this today, anytime we’ve had success it’s always started off with a win in the first game and it sets the tone for the rest of the season,” White said. “We’re very hungry to beat Canyon. They beat us twice last year. Since I’ve been at West Ranch very few teams have beaten us twice in a season, so we are fired up looking forward to this game tomorrow.”
The Wildcats have a solid mix of freshmen and sophomores to go along with experienced upperclassmen. Freshman Summer Hahn starts as an outside-back and freshman Cassidy Imperial-Pham starts at centre-mid.
Sophomores Kennedy Desser, Leanna Kane, Jenna Catalano and Lizeth Gutierrez all start as well.
“We have a lot of young kids, but we’ve surrounded them with experienced leaders as upperclassmen, so it’s kind of nice blend for us this year,” White said. “We’re a very balanced team. We’re very fortunate to have some nice leadership at our centre-back position with Kaylani Miranda. She provides nice leadership for some of the younger girls surrounding her.”
The Wildcats went 3-0-2 in preleague and scored a total of 17 goals in five contests, while only conceding four goals.
White attributes the early success to having a well-rounded team that moves the ball quick and makes smart passes.
West Ranch also has a handful of players that can play up top, providing the Wildcats with several different ways to score.
“It’s a midfield for us that plays the style that I love to play which is quick possession, knock the ball around, share it, keep it moving as much as possible,” he said. “This year definitely more so than last year we have a number of players that we can rotate in up top that are really sneaky around the goal, seem to be in the right position at the right time. We can score goals a lot of different ways. Dribble penetration, shoot from outside from corners. It’s a very balanced team.”
The match between Canyon and West Ranch is scheduled for 3:15 p.m. at West Ranch.
The only team mentioned in the latest CIF-SS polls (listed in Others category in the rankings released on Monday, Dec. 10), Saugus enters league play red hot, having gone 6-0-2 in non-conference play in addition to winning the Buena Tournament.
The Centurions haven’t finished better than third in league in the last five years, but are looking to change that this season in head coach Kevin Miner’s first year with the varsity team after leading the Frosh/Soph team the past three seasons.
“I would say that they are the team to beat,” Miner said of Hart. “Coach G does a great job over there with his girls, getting them prepared game in and game out and we’re trying to do the same thing at Saugus. To play from the first whistle to the last. It’s a very tough league and we know that, we’re just going to go out and try to play the type of soccer we’ve been playing.”
Senior centre-forward Aubrey Finicle leads the Cents with five goals and two assists. She has scored three game-winning goals so far this year including the lone goal in the Buena Tournament championship game.
Sophomore Jazmine Flores, Saugus’ other centre-forward, brings speed in the middle and has been key in setting up offensive opportunities.
Junior Shaina Berdin, who made the All-Foothill League Second Team last season, has four goals so far this season and according to Miner is a “big key to our success.”
The Centurions have been suffocating on defense, having allowed only one goal in their first eight games.
“Our defense has been stellar and our midfielders, our busy bees the workers, they make things happen,” Miner said. “Tatum Romberger, Grace Seitz, Nicole Frazier and Presley Williams have done an incredible job on the back line. Michelle Walker is in that rotation as well.
“They just don’t give up many opportunities. We know that our defense is solid and if we play the type of soccer that we preach to play, we’re going to do real well I think.”
Saugus will open league play against Valencia, the last team to hold the Foothill League crown before Hart’s current five-year streak.
Valencia comes into the season without a loss in preleague, finishing 3-0-2, including an 8-1 trouncing of Fillmore High School a little over a week ago.
The game between the Centurions and the Vikings starts at 5 p.m. at Valencia.