COC players, left, Lesly Cabrera, pink penny, Gracell Magnaye, Celia Franco, and Alexandria Alatorre practice. Bobby Block/The Signal

2019 COC women’s soccer preview

College of the Canyons women’s soccer head coach Justin Lundin and his coaching staff are enthusiastic about the talented, but young team that is heading into the 2019 season.

“I think we only have five sophomores so the rest are going to be freshmen,” Lundin said. “The good thing about that is that they come in fighting for their spot so the attitudes have been great and the work ethic has been great.”

Beginning practice at 8 a.m., the group looked attentive and eager to soak up as much knowledge as they could with the team’s first scrimmage against the Central California Aztecs soccer club looming on Thursday, Aug. 22.

The Cougars finished the 2018-19 season 8-8-3 overall, going 5-1-2 in the Western State Conference (WSC), East Division for a second-place finish. Qualifying for the CCCAA SoCal Regional Playoffs, the Cougars’ postseason was cut short after they fell in the first round to Antelope Valley 2-1.

This year’s team feels confident that they will right the ship.

Canyons returns three players from last year’s squad in midfielder Angelina Maldonado, midfielder/forward Gracell Magnaye and defender Jenny Patino. COC also welcomes back two familiar faces who missed last season with injuries: defender Celia Franco and midfielder Jennifer Roney.

With four of the top five scorers departing from last year’s team, Magnaye, a sophomore who tied for second on the team with five goals and 11 total points last season, is the only returning player who netted a goal. She will be leaned on to provide the same fight and skill this season.

“I came in last remembering being really nervous and just thinking, ‘Oh gosh. What am I going to do?’” Magnaye said. “But I feel more confident this year and I feel I can carry myself better.”

Real So Cal and Golden Valley alumna Emily Perez comes in eager to contribute in any way possible as a midfielder. Maggie Maldonado is also showing some great leadership qualities.

Falling short of their eighth consecutive WSC title last season, the Cougars understand what’s at stake this year and they are not shy about expressing their aspirations. 

“Coming into my freshman year there is a lot of pressure because we actually have a lot of freshmen this year so we are all looking to come back and win conference this year,” Perez said.

College of the Canyons player Emily Perez stands next to Gracell Magnaye. Bobby Block/The Signal

Roney returns for her sophomore season after suffering an ACL tear late in the 2017 season that forced her to miss the entire 2018-19 season. The attacking midfielder was one of the team’s top goal scorers (seven) and tied for fifth with 16 total points and was named to the All-WSC Second Team before the injury.

Roney has seen the growth and potential that the team has shown by playing as a unit and collectively growing together.

“From what I’ve seen from last year, the team is very organized this year and we all play for each other instead of individually, so I think that makes a big difference,” Roney said. “When you have people who aren’t selfish and play for each other it’s just going to go along way in the journey.

Franco, a sophomore defender, returns to the SCV after earning a NCAA Division 1 scholarship to the University of San Francisco after being a four-year varsity player for Canyon High School’s girls soccer team.

Franco tore her Achilles tendon last season, delaying her addition to the team, but she brings with her experience and leadership.

“I hope to bring a lot of leadership and encouragement to the girls because that’s definitely what the girls didn’t have last year,” Franco said. “This year, so far, we look great. We are connected and we talk.”

Building a title contender won’t come easy, but Lundin and his coaching staff see glimpses that the team is coming together and building their own new identity.

“This year we have more talented players. We have more soccer-smart players so we will be able to do a lot more in terms of keeping the ball and possession,” Lundin said. “Last year we were trying to get through basically. Really, we had a lot of hiccups along the way and it was a tough year in terms of having an identity. 

“This year, I can see the team already starting to show their identity to be a possession-oriented team, to be able to attack and defend with the same kind of work rate and attitude. Strong players, but also players who are willing to put in the work on both sides of the ball.”

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