By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
It’s a two-horse race in the 2013 Sonoma County League girls soccer season, and if last year is any guide Analy and Petaluma will be neck-and-neck down the stretch at season’s end.
Analy won league in 2012 with a 9-0-1 record. Petaluma finished second at 8-1-1.
It came down to the last game of the season with both teams undefeated in league before Analy prevailed at home 2-0.
“They deserved the win,” second-year Petaluma coach Chris Daly said of last year’s clincher by the Tigers.
“It’s a friendly rivalry between us. They got us last year so it would be nice to one-up them this year.”
After Analy and Petaluma, Sonoma Valley is the pick for third place, and the remaining three schools — Piner, Healdsburg and El Molino — will likely finish in the second tier of the league. Elsie Allen, similar to last season, will not field a varsity squad due to a lack of players.
The key games for the SCL are the two matchups between the Trojans and Tigers (at Petaluma Sept. 16, at Analy Oct. 15).
“Sonoma, Analy and Petaluma are the only ones in the SCL competing because we have the numbers,” Daly said. “All the teams in the NBL have great numbers of players due to big schools, and the SCL is diminishing a little bit.”
Even so, competition for the title should be compelling.
The Trojans lost in the second round of the North Coast Section playoffs last season but should be stronger in 2013 with eight returning starters on a roster of 21.
“We have a solid junior and senior class and we have set our goal to win the SCL. We can definitely make a run at the NCS title,” Daly said. “Last year we had a lot of injuries to key players. Hopefully we can stay healthy.”
The Trojans are led by senior forward McKenzie Maher, the 2012 SCL offensive MVP, and juniors Gabby Lemos at midfield and Annie Madden in goal. Daly said the Trojans’ strength is passing and ball movement, although they could improve in creating more scoring opportunities from the wing and converting goals off crosses.
Despite being the defending SCL champ, seventh-year Analy coach Joseph Heil says Petaluma has an edge this season.
“Petaluma is in better shape this year just because of the number of players they have,” Heil said.
“Petaluma is the clear favorite at this point and the team to beat.”
The Tigers will start several freshmen and have only four returning starters among their 21 players. Analy lost five key senior team leaders off last year’s squad.
“I certainly have the talent but we have a ways to go before we become cohesive,” Heil said. “We could be great or we could struggle for a while.”
Analy is led by senior midfielder Kaylee Castro, junior forward Brooklyn Varnadore, and senior defender Rachel Hargrave.
Junior goalie Ali Miller is out with an injury, so sophomore backup Bailey Cahill will fill in during her absence.
“We are young and counting on sophomores moving up from junior varsity,” Heil said.
The Dragons finished third in the SCL last season, losing to Petaluma 2-1 in the NCS first round.
“If we end up in second place in the league and make NCS, that would be a real successful season for us,” third-year coach Julio Leon said. “Last year we won 60 percent of our games and we want to win 70 percent this year.”
Sonoma has 20 players with six seniors and five freshmen.
The Dragons will be paced by senior defender Maria Hawing, a 2012 SCL First Teamer, and senior midfielder Ellen Angeloni. Goalkeeper duties will be split between juniors Emily Miller and Christen Silkey.
“I’m looking for playing time for my freshmen class. I am very excited about that,” Leon said.
“We have a well-balanced team. We have experience, depth and amazing chemistry.”