First published in the Dec. 17 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
By Nathan Cambridge
Last season, the girls’ soccer team from South Pasadena High School was undefeated throughout the abbreviated regular season and advanced to the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division V playoffs.
“We didn’t really lose last season until our semifinal game,” said head coach Danielle Jones, whose team finished with an 8-1-4 overall record. “There is a lot of expectation to keep that standard going, at least on my end. I’m keeping all our trainings, our fitness, our practices at a very high standard. I’m not really taking it easy on them. I know they definitely feel that. I’m doing it, obviously, so we can make the same kind of strides we did [last season. Our success] helped a lot for momentum and trying to raise the bar.”
The coach will be actively heading off any sense of complacency.
“I have quite a big roster this year and I did that purposely so many of the players can compete for their spot and so we can bring in new, talented players to carry on the standard I’m trying to carry on in this program,” Jones, in her second season in charge, said. “I think they also realize my bar has been set extremely high now since I know what they are capable of from last [season].”
Jones played center midfield at Sonoma State and looks to use that as a template for the Tigers this season and as prep if they may move forward.
“My program is all about prepping them for college. I make my training atmosphere [and] the standards that I hold them to very high and very college-like,” Jones said. “I was a D-II player so I have firsthand experience what it’s like to have to time manage, eat well, have my nutrition right, just all the things that encompass a well-rounded player. I’m really trying to do that in this program. I’m not just here to win; I’m trying to get them mentally [and] physically ready for college.”
South Pasadena’s style will have an international feel, specifically the Barcelona way.
“I heavily am influenced by the Spanish style of football. I like quick, effective passes, possession to goal, really clean, sharp, holding the ball, like Tiki-Taka style,” Jones said. “I’m not really a huge fan of the direct ball or the ball over the top. It’s been a struggle for some of the newer players because that is what they have been taught all their lives.”
She sees strength in her squad’s soccer IQ and ability on the ball. A main challenge will be getting all the players into the same mindset and creating a conformity of playing style on the pitch. This season should be easier than the last.
“[Last season] I felt highly stressed because I was not only trying to do drills that had a purpose and have a specific meaning, but also figure out how to do them socially distanced,” Jones said. “I think not having that restriction anymore has opened up about everything again as of coaching-wise.”
The Tigers’ starting goalkeeper will be junior Amaris Franco, who has some experience playing at a “national level,” Jones said, so “I’m really hoping we can count on her.” On defense junior Daniella Lat and sophomore Karouko Endo are standouts.
Meanwhile, sophomore Iris Pollard was the Tigers’ leading goal scorer last season and “is probably the biggest offensive threat in the [league] … She has the speed, the ball control and the finishing quality of a top-notch player.”
There are promising newcomers who have arrived, as well. Freshman goalkeeper Ava Hartstein is one, and “for her age she is stellar. She has the agility and the ball control with her hands. She plays like an older player.” Another is freshman Saidbh Byrne, a speedy player with a running background who will play a big role in the offense. Freshman Jackie Sides, a defender who likes to attack, is also a welcome addition.
Despite not losing in Rio Hondo play last campaign, the Tigers were edged out for the title by La Cañada.
“La Cañada is definitely our rival as far as who is going to be on top. It’s usually us or them,” Jones said. “I’m really looking to take down La Cañada this [season.]”