"I think we will be competitive this year," said Paly coach Don Briggs, who guided the Vikings to a 21-1-3 record last season, topped by a 0-0 deadlock with Bellarmine in the CCS Division I title match. "It's going to be difficult to repeat last year's success, which was the best record of any previous Paly soccer team. This looks like it will be an interesting year and it starts right after the break."
The holiday break is over and the league season is under way. Palo Alto (0-0, 3-2-3), which opened Thursday against Monta Vista, will visit Gunn on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. The Titans (1-0, 2-5) opened Tuesday with a big 2-0 victory at Mountain View.
"Mountain View is back in the De Anza Division and Jim McGuirk always has well-organized teams that play strong defense and always seem to have a top-notch keeper," Briggs said. "Gunn will be competitive when their keeper (Cameron McElfresh) comes back and I think he comes back at the beginning of league. No matter what their record is, they play tough against us."
Gunn went 11-7-5 last season, losing to Bellarmine in the CCS Division I semifinals after going 6-3-3 in league play. Defender Scott Baer is back along with fellow defenders Sterling Hancock, Konrad Guzinski, Michael Starr, Jorge Salazar and Kenji Frahm plus senior midfielder Enzo Cabili, and senior forward Greg Albrecht.
Hancock scored the winning goal against Mountain View and added a penalty kick four minutes later after freshman Johnny Sun was taken down in the penalty box after taking a pass from junior Mason Naar.
"I'm sure Los Gatos will be in the mix and I usually figure they are one of the team's to beat to win league," Briggs continued. "Milpitas is always tough and has a couple of speedy forwards, including the league's leading scorer from last year. They will surprise quite a few teams."
Monta Vista and Los Altos also return to the De Anza Division after spending last season in the El Camino.
"We are young with some bright spots, including the play of two starting freshmen (Grant Shorin and Peter Laminette) on defense and a new senior keeper (Scott Alexander). Mark Raftrey (returning junior starter) and (junior) Nittai Malcin round out the new defense.
"Jenner Fox is back in the midfield after missing most of last season with a broken foot. Junior John Richardson, a junior midfielder is playing well and helps distribute the ball along with Fox. Our other outside midfield spot has been shared by James Maa and Sam Greene. Many of our players are new to the varsity program, but I feel we are just beginning to gel as a team."
While Palo Alto lost a handful of key seniors from last year in addition to a few returnees to a local soccer academy, there have been a few pleasant surprises that include the play of Ethan Plant at both forward and center midfield, Alex Freeman at right midfield and Alexander's play at keeper.
Briggs said the important thing is for his team to stay healthy to have any kind of chance of making a deep run in the CCS playoffs.
"We have four or five players on our 20-man roster who are still suffering injuries from their "club season" along with a couple that are out for the season or have only had a few minutes on the field," Briggs said. "Seniors John Anderton and Spencer Sims, our lead scoring forwards, have been out due to injuries for nearly the whole preseason. But (junior) Zac Hummel, a new student from Oregon, and (sophomore) Kris Hoglund, a returnee from last year, have had strong games of late and are improving with each game."
Palo Alto went 11-0-1 in league last season while allowing just one goal. Briggs doesn't expect any team to be that perfect in 2010.
"In contrast, this would appear to be one of the most wide-open seasons in the past eight years of the De Anza Division," Briggs said. "Our goal is to keep improving as the season progresses and be competitive in every match. I do not see any easy games coming up in our league schedule."
The same might be said of the West Bay Athletic League this season where Sacred Heart Prep, Menlo, Eastside Prep, Pinewood and Priory all will battle for postseason berths.
Sacred Heart Prep is the defending WBAL champ after going 10-3-1 last season. The Gators are off to a 3-0 start in league this season (5-3 overall) after a 2-0 win over Eastside Prep on Wednesday. Max Polkinhorne returns as the starting keeper in addition to subbing in the field at times. Senior Reid Gaa returns for a fourth season to lead the way. He's joined by returnees Marcelino Perez, Alec Mishra, Victor and Robert Ojeda plus fellow football players Matt Walter and Jack Odell plus newcomer Joseph Boulous. Walter and Boulous provided the goals in the win over Eastside Prep.
Sacred Heart was knocked out of the CCS playoffs in the opening round last season to finish 11-9-1.
Menlo School lost the WBAL title to SHP last season, finishing 8-2-4 in league, but the Knights are out to make amends for that in 2010. Menlo is off to a 2-0-1 start in league (4-3-1 overall) under first-year coach Mark Arya, a former All-American at Cal, following a 2-1 win over Crystal Springs on Wednesday.
Menlo was knocked out of the CCS playoffs in a 6-5 penalty-kick setback to King's Academy after reaching the second round with a 9-8 win in penalty kicks over Harker. Menlo lost 10 seniors to graduation, but had 10 juniors on that squad and most of them are contributing this season — Jackson Badger, Jack Hessel, Coby Joseph, Spike Lufkin, Jonathan Melgar, Sanjay and Vikram Padval and Alex Chang.
Sam Parker and junior Lowry Yankwich, both standouts on the cross-country team, have figured in much of the scoring and have been joined by fellow newcomers Dawson Williams, defender Luca Keyt, sophomore Henry Bard, standout freshman starting goalie Timmy Costa and freshmen Ryan Karle.
Yankwich and Vikram Padval provided the goals against Crystal Springs while Costa was a standout, blocking back-to-back penalty kicks.
Eastside Prep (2-1, 2-2-2) is off to a good start in league play under coach Greg Jellin. Senior keeper Manuel Chavez anchors the defense while Jesus Magana is a big threat on offense. Javier Magana and cross-country standout Darryl Sepulveda are also key performers on offense. Defenders Gustavo Jimenez (team captain) and Alonso Guerrero lead the way while freshman Christian (Sonic) Rosales is a key starter as a center midfielder.
Priory has a new coach in Paul Moran and he has his team off to a 1-2 start in league play (1-4 overall). Among those leading the Panthers are Evan Filipczyk, Alex Brugger, Guillermo Talancon, Wyatt Farino and Tommy Shields.
Pinewood (0-2-1, 0-5-1) is still looking for its first win, but did tie Harker on Wednesday, 2-2, to show some offensive life.