Perhaps the Tri-Valley League thought it was in for a break this soccer season.
The Fillmore High boys' team, long a power in the sport, was missing nine starters and the coach from last season's league championship team.
The prevailing thought was that it was time for the Flashes to fizzle.
Opponents are still waiting.
Fillmore won its third consecutive league title and has advanced to the Southern Section 1-A Division playoffs that begin Friday. The Flashes (13-3-1) play host to St. Monica at 3 p.m.
Coach Art Hernandez, a 1984 Fillmore graduate, says defense has been the operative word in the Flashes' success. Joal Garibay, a senior sweeper, is the key player when it comes to shutting down opponents.
"The whole defense is strong, but he's the commander back there," Hernandez said.
Goalie Roberto Martinez, a freshman, has seven shutouts. "He's been a surprise to most opponents," Hernandez said. "And also to me."
Roberto's older brother, Jesus, a junior midfielder, scored 14 goals in 12 league games.
Santa Paula (13-4), is seeded No. 1 in the 1-A Division and received a first-round bye. The Cardinals tied Calabasas for the championship of the Frontier League but won a coin flip to determine the league's top representative. Calabasas was seeded second.
In other 1-A games Friday at 3 p.m., Moorpark (14-3-3) plays at Atascadero (4-7-3) and Oak Park (11-7-3) plays at Camino Real League champion Cantwell.
The 4-A playoffs begin at 3 this afternoon with Ventura (16-5-1) at Newbury Park (15-5-1), Simi Valley (17-6-2) at Long Beach Wilson (11-7-3), Culver City (3-10-3) at Royal (21-1-2), and Burbank (14-4-4) at Channel League champion Oxnard.
Simi Valley (21-2-1), champion of the Marmonte League, is seeded No. 1 in the girls' 3-A, which also begins playoff action this afternoon with games at 3. The Pioneers play host to Santa Barbara (9-6-1). In other 3-A games, Buena (17-4-1) plays host to Newbury Park (13-8); Royal (15-4-1) plays host to Arcadia (15-4-4); and Rio Mesa (19-2) plays host to Saugus (11-6-1).
In 2-A games at 3 this afternoon, St. Bonaventure (15-3-1) travels to Righetti (13-2-1); Villanova Prep (4-3-2) plays at South Pasadena (14-6-1); Moorpark (12-2-2) plays host to the winner of Tuesday's La Canada-Pasadena Poly game; Santa Clara, the Frontier League's second-place team, plays at Cate (5-5-4); and Ojai Valley (2-3-3) plays host to Atascadero (10-4-4).