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Knights look to strike gold

St. Francis aims to hold down top spot in area, as new season nears.

November 29, 2011|By Andrew Shortall, andrew.shortall@latimes.com

Last season, St. Francis High was back to its old successful self, as it advanced to the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs. The Golden Knights will look to keep things running smoothly and senior leadership and depth could well be the keys.

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.

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"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.

"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, Crescenta Valley 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 the midst of a rebuilding process, La Cañada is handing off the reins to a new leader after the Spartans' coach for the past two years, Barry Ritson, stepped down last month.

Alex Harrison, who is a coach for the Los Angeles Premier Futbol Club — where Ritson is the director of coaching — is taking control of the Spartans.

The hiring process has been a whirlwind for Harrison, who was offered the job Nov. 23 (but won't be officially hired until approved by the La Cañada Unified School Board at its upcoming meeting on Tuesday) and conducted tryouts the same day.

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