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Knights look to strike gold

St. Francis, CV aim to hold down top spots in area, as new season nears.

November 23, 2011|By Gabriel Rizk, gabriel.rizk@latimes.com
  • St. Francis' Thomas Banks, center, does a drill during practice.
St. Francis' Thomas Banks, center, does a drill… (Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff…)

Last season, St. Francis High and Crescenta Valley were the most successful boys' soccer programs in the area, with both squads advancing to the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division I and IV playoffs, respectively. The Golden Knights and Falcons will look to keep things running smoothly and senior leadership and depth could well be the keys for both.

The Golden Knights have depth in goal, key pieces back in the midfield led by senior Austin Frank and a pair of dangerous strikers up top in seniors Eric Bocanegra and Billy McCreary.

Senior Paul Dean, last season's starter in goal is back, as is junior keeper Luca Coppola, who sat out last season with an injury.

"We're really happy to have two quality goalkeepers," veteran St. Francis Coach Glen Appels said. "That's a great start for our team."

Senior center back Thomas Banks is back to anchor the back line, but figures to be flanked by younger players making their first forays into varsity.

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"We have a couple outstanding young guys," Appels said, "so we're trying to find exactly which guys are going to fit in there, but we have some choices, which is nice."

One blow to the Knights' fortunes is the decision of All-CIF forward Mark Verso to forgo his junior season of high school to play with the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.

As per usual, the Golden Knights will kick off the season by tackling a tough nonleague schedule in order to prepare for the ultra-competitive Mission League, where the team placed second last season. Some of the juicier matchups will include Santa Barbara, St. John Bosco, Santa Monica, CV, and a return to the Nike Invitational in Oceanside.

"We look at everything with an eye on the playoffs, as well," Appels said. "You have to be ready for the Mission League and then the Mission League gets us ready for the playoffs. Challenging ourselves is the way to go, especially with the seniors we have and the leadership they're providing."

In addition to being ranked eighth in the Division IV preseason poll, Crescenta Valley is also widely seen as the favorite to capture its third straight Pacific League championship. With seven starters returning as seniors, including the All-CIF trio of All-Area Player of the Year forward Pavle Atanackovic, forward Alex Berger and midfielder Salar Hajimirsadeghi, it's not hard to see why.

Grant Clark will assume coaching duties for the Falcons this season, replacing Kiel McClung, whom he served under as an assistant coach previously.

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