Another year, another draw between Hart Indians girls’ soccer and the Saugus Centurions.
Hart welcomed Saugus for the first of two Foothill League battles, which ended in a scoreless draw. This is the third straight season in which the two have tied, but this season both coaches agreed the score reflected the game.
“I thought it was a pretty even game,” Saugus coach Kai English told the Signal in a phone interview. “There were periods of back and forth. They had momentum, we had momentum. The tie was a fair result.”
The Indians controlled the ball early before the Centurions settled in midway through the first half and started gaining more possession.
Both teams had chances but strong defensive performances from each team’s backline and goalkeepers kept the opposing squad scoreless for the second time this season.
Hart graduated several star players last season and was missing multiple starters but still aimed for the normal game plan of building through the midfield, where key returners and collegiate soccer-bound stars thrived.
Hart senior Ariana Salvador was a focus for the Saugus defense, who aimed to keep the Pepperdine commit in check.
“I thought we defended them really well,” English said. “They lost a good amount of attacking players last year but they still have great players there. I thought we did a good job containing Ari. I think both defenses were the stars of the game. It was a good defensive performance from both sides. They shut down our offense and we shut down theirs.”
Neither team could muster up a strong attack as the defensive prowess was on display from both teams. Both coaches utilized their Swiss-army knives on the backline as Hart’s Ayla Noble and Saugus’ Makeli Leonard added a defensive presence.
Leonard, a freshman, has played all over the field for the Centurions, including up top with her sister, sophomore striker Makea Leonard.
“Makea and Makeli, they’re just phenomenal players and kids,” Hart coach Brett Croft said in a phone interview. “They come from a good family and they showed us they’re quality players and very organized. They were the best players on the field.”
English made it a point at halftime for his team to get the ball to Makea at the top in hopes of a game-winner but the Hart defense clamped down hard on the sophomore. The Centurion coach praised senior forward Sophia Ruys for her performance, just days after she committed to play Division 1 soccer at Old Dominion University.
“Sophia Ruys had her best game in a Saugus shirt since I’ve been here,” English said. “It’s been a great week for her. We’re all very proud of her at Saugus. She played really well. She made an impact everywhere, taking on her defender, getting crosses and trying to feed Makea. The only thing missing was that finishing touch. She had a few shots go a little wayward but she was the standout player on our team.”
Even in a scoreless draw, English believed this was his team’s best performance so far this season.
“Defensively we’ve gotten better,” English said. “We’ve made mistakes back there but didn’t make any big mistakes against Hart. We still need to find more consistency on the attack but on defense, we’re starting to look as strong as we were last year.”
Both teams will look to keep improving with plenty of season left. Hart and Saugus finished first and second atop of the Foothill League last season and after Thursday’s match, this season could have a similar finish.
Hart is still trying to find the right pieces to the puzzle in hopes of ending the regular season with the program’s third straight league title.
“I think we’re still trying to find out who we are a little bit, but we still have solid leadership,” Croft said. “They’re leading the charge by example. We’re gonna need some people to step up soon but we’re still searching.”
Both teams will head into tournament play before heading back into league action on Tuesday, Jan. 2. Saugus returns home to host Golden Valley while Hart will host Castaic at 3:15 p.m.