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Coach Glen Appels Has Built St. Francis Into a Powerful Program With the Help of Assistants Who Once Played for the Golden Knights

February 27, 2001|CHRIS SHAFFER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LA CANADA — For St. Francis High, 1964 was an important year.

That's when the school's football team won a second consecutive Southern Section title--and Glen Appels was born.

Appels was hired by St. Francis as boys' soccer coach 13 years ago and brought the school its third section title and first soccer championship in 1996.

A fourth may be on its way.

The Golden Knights (21-5) are two victories shy of another title. Mission League rival and runner-up Notre Dame (16-8-1) stands in the way in a Division IV semifinal today at 3 p.m. at Notre Dame.

Appels has brought stability and quality to the program, but he said it would not have been possible without assistants Chris Muir, Eric Johnson, Pete Vagenas and Juan Fontenla, former all-section players at St. Francis who donate their time.

"As far as the team goes, having these [assistants] is invaluable," said Appels, the school's director of admissions and chair of the English department. "As for myself, having these guys there makes my life more valuable. To have these guys around everyday is a gift."

Appels said the program's success isn't based on victories. He strives to make the players better students, smarter and more skillful players, and better people.

"Winning games [isn't] our focus. It's a bonus for us," said Appels, who has a 197-70-29 career record. "Winning is great, but we've had some enormously great people who have gone through this program."

When it comes to big-game experience, the Golden Knights usually have the edge over opponents. Vagenas and Johnson were standouts on the 1996 championship team. Muir and Fontenla were on teams that reached the semifinals.

Appels was no slouch himself on the field. He was a member of the Arizona Olympic Development squad from 1977-82 and played sweeper at California. Appels is among the few people in the region with an "A" coaching license from the U.S. Soccer Federation.

It's amazing the assistants find time to volunteer. Muir is the chair of the history department at St. Francis and attends law school at night and on weekends. Fontenla is an investment banker.

Johnson is working toward a bachelor's degree at Cal Poly Pomona and training for a tryout with the San Diego franchise in a new indoor soccer league.

Vagenas, a former All-American at UCLA, has had a distinguished soccer career. He has played with the U.S. national team, started on the last U.S. Olympic team and plays for the Galaxy.

"Coach Appels knows all you can know about soccer and all of our assistant coaches went through the program, so they know what it takes to win a championship," senior Matt Nicchitta said. "We are really lucky to have coaches like that. We know the sacrifices the coaches have made to coach us. They all have jobs and have to take off time for us. We really appreciate it. It's a very reassuring feeling knowing they are there for us."

St. Francis has qualified for the playoffs 12 of 13 years under Appels. The Golden Knights have advanced to the semifinals six times, but this season might be the most impressive.

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year because the Golden Knights had only three starters returning from a team that tied a school record with 23 victories. The team allowed fewer than a goal per game and won the school's sixth Mission League title.

But with the kind of coaching the Golden Knights receive, it's no wonder.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Soccer Matchups

SOUTHERN SECTION

BOYS' SEMIFINALS

Division IV

Diamond Ranch at La Canada

St. Francis at Notre Dame

GIRLS' SEMIFINALS

Division II

Buena at El Dorado

Division IV

Corona del Mar at Harvard-Westlake

Louisville at Chaminade

Division V

Flintridge Prep at Brentwood

CITY SECTION

BOYS' QUARTERFINALS

Grant at University

GIRLS' SEMIFINALS

Granada Hills at

El Camino Real

San Pedro at Chatsworth

All games at 3 p.m.

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