“The first thing that I started hearing is, ‘Hey, coach, you lost nine quality seniors, what are you going to do?’ ”
So said South Pas High’s new varsity girls soccer coach, Francisco Lopez, who was hired in July. But now, with the season at hand, Lopez says he’s ready for anything and sees no issue with the challenge.
The current Tiger team — which opens at home on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. against Polytechnic of Pasadena — has some tough shoes to fill.
But Lopez would seem a capable guide for the upcoming trek, having won both a Division 6 CIF title and a Division 5 state title in the 2017-2018 season, and compiling an 84-20-6 overall record (39-1 league) in four seasons with San Gabriel Mission.
“I love challenges,’’ he said. “When I took on San Gabriel Mission, they were Division 7 … and eventually we moved up to Division 4. I’ve been part of programs that I’ve been able to come in and make an impact and help them grow a good soccer program with the support of the school, that I’ve been fortunate to have here.
“South Pasadena is kind of my first challenge to coach a big school, and when that opened up — the history of South Pas was evident. Everybody in the high-school soccer scene knew that South Pasadena always had quality soccer programs, so when that opportunity opened up, it was kind of the next challenge for me to take on.”
The girls soccer team is coming off of back-to-back Rio Hondo League titles — last year with a first-round exit, and the year before with a Southern Section Division 5 championship and a semifinal exit in the Division 4 SoCal Regional tournament.
The Tigers’ nine departed graduates scored almost all of the team’s goals last season, but they have eight seniors who will be stepping up to the challenges.
Lopez spotlighted three in particular — midfielders Jessica Lat and Chloe Kim as well as defender Corey Segal — as players who have helped him create a culture of hard work and dedication.
“We’ve been training since August — I wanted to get to know them early on and see the character in the team,” Lopez said. “I wanted to come in and see the quality of the players, and mostly the character of the players. Nobody likes change, but these girls have accepted the change.’’
Segal is now a four-year varsity player who was a part of the championship team that won in 2017-2018, but due to an ACL tear, she was unable to play all of last season.
Lopez likes to play the traditional 4-3-3 formation and puts an emphasis on possession.
“In order for us to have possession, they need to really study their role on the field,” he said. “Right now, we’re going through the progressions of how to defend and how to attack. Through that, most of the players have been open to asking questions about positions and situational questions. For me, that’s important, because it tells me that they are thinking about execution on twhe field and wanting to make the right decisions.”
The Tigers played a scrimmage against Gabrielino on Thursday that ended in a 2-1 win that didn’t affect either team’s overall record — but it showed the coach what his team could do.
“For me, I wanted to see a couple of my key players out there and see how they do in their new positions — some of them play club [soccer], so they are kind of playing out of positions [with South Pasadena]. So that was something I wanted to see, how they react and adapt to the game,” he said.
The team is a fairly young one, with eight seniors, eight juniors, two sophomores and a freshman.