The Santiago Canyon College Hawks enter the 2017 Orange Empire Conference season as the heavy favorites after the conference's sports information directors picked them to finish atop the standings. The Hawks received all seven first place votes after winning their 13th straight conference title a year ago.
Santiago Canyon came up one game short of the state tournament in 2016 and has a number of key players returning in 2017. The Hawks return their top goal-scorer in Cassie Soto, who knotted 15 goals as a freshman. Santiago Canyon also returns goalkeeper Siera Pedroza and a number of defenders from a squad that recorded 14 shutouts last fall.
The Hawks will not be alone in the chase for the OEC title, however, as a number of other programs pose a threat. Cypress, Saddleback and Orange Coast are bunched in a pack behind Santiago Canyon with high hopes of ending the 13-year reign.
Cypress has just about as much history as any program around having won three state titles in women's soccer in the past 20 years. The Chargers were the only team able to put a blemish on the SCC conference record last year when they played to a 2-2 tie on October 11. Cypress lost a ton in the defensive end from the 2016 squad but has firepower returning on offense with Kristen Nolan and Julissa Zuniga combining for 16 goals last fall.
Saddleback has made the playoffs the past four years and finished as high as second in the Orange Empire Conference in 2015. The Gauchos were the only team to ever beat Santiago Canyon and Cypress twice in a season when they swept both teams in 2015. Last year the Gauchos played gamely in falling 1-0 and 2-0 to SCC while tying with Cypress twice. Saddleback lost a lot of talent in the offensive zone from a year ago but returns most of its players on the back end, which should keep them in most games
Orange Coast was a third place finisher last season and had the task of taking on Santiago Canyon in the second round of the playoffs. The Pirates fell 1-0 in a hard-fought battle, but return some players from the squad. Although they lost a number of scorers, Lupe Rodriguez returns after finishing third on the team in scoring.
OEC Sports Information Poll Results (w/first place votes):
Santiago Canyon, 63 pts. (7)
Cypress, 55 pts.
Saddleback, 47 pts.
Orange Coast, 45 pts.
Fullerton, 27 pts.
Santa Ana, 26 pts.
Irvine Valley, 26 pts.
Golden West, 19 pts.
Norco, 7 pts.