ARCHIVE PHOTO: Crescenta Valley defender Matt Bracht is one of several key returning players for the Falcons.

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Crescenta Valley defender Matt Bracht is one of several key returning players for the Falcons. (Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff Photographer)

Before they take the field for their first official match, the members of the Crescenta Valley High boys’ soccer team will not be in line to defend the CIF Southern Section Division IV championship they won last season.

Things will look mighty different for the Falcons, who have been moved up to Division III and lost a plethora of key players to graduation who helped the Falcons win their third straight Pacific League championship before winning the program’s first CIF title and making an inaugural appearance in the CIF Southern California Regional Championships Division I championship match.

There will be some new opportunities on the horizon for the Falcons, and that’s fine with Crescenta Valley Coach Grant Clark.

“It would have been nice to have stayed in Division IV and tried to repeat,” said Clark, whose team is ranked No. 1 in the Division III preseason poll. “It will be a good challenge to see what we are made of and how we can adjust to being in a new division.

“I think we will have a good balance of athletes are very competitive. Last year, we took on the role of being underdog. Now, we are on the other side.”

Crescenta Valley lost forward Pavle Atanackovic, midfielder Alex Berger and goalkeeper Nick Ruiz, among others, to graduation. Atanackovic scored a school-record 39 goals and 87 points last season to earn All-Area Boys’ Soccer Player of the Year honors for the second straight season. Berger was named the league’s and division’s most valuable player and Ruiz shined in net.

While Clark said those players will be missed, the Falcons must move on after going 23-1-6, 12-0-2 in league last season.

“Regardless of who we have coming back or what division we are in, we have to be ready to play at a high level and they know to expect that,” Clark said. “It’s about how you are able to respond. We have some players who we have brought up to fill the holes that were left by the players who graduated.

“League will be a lot similar to last season with maybe a couple of teams pulling away from the pack. We want to win league again and we know we will get everybody’s best effort each time.”

Crescenta Valley will return several key players, including defender Matthew Bracht, defender Brian Ju, midfielder Erick Trejo and forward Eric Keshishian. Trejo and Bracht netted All-Area first- and second-team spots, respectively, last season.

St. Francis spent most of last season in the hunt for the Mission League title before finishing third. The Golden Knights then advanced to the second round of the Division I playoffs before succumbing to Ventura in overtime.

The Golden Knights will try again to win the team’s first league championship since 2008, bolstered by the return of goalkeeper Luca Coppola, midfielder Brookes Treidler, midfielder/forward Reed Izumi and defenders Christian Green and Luke Hatanaka.

St. Francis Coach Glen Appels, who led the Golden Knights to three CIF titles between 1996-2003, said he will be counting on the upperclassmen to provide leadership.

“We have a young team, but we have a good blend,” Appels said. “We are going to be looking at leadership from our returners and development from the younger guys.

“We know that league will again be tough. You’ll have the teams that do traditionally well and then you have others who are up and coming. We have to be ready every game.”

Coppola, a senior, will be back after earning all-league accolades last season. He spent most of the 2010-11 season battling an assortment of injuries.

“He’s experienced and we expect another big year from him,” Appels said. “There are so many good goalkeepers in our league and he’s right up there among them.”

Flintridge Prep was the other local team to qualify for the playoffs last season. Under coach Mathew Bowden, the Rebels tied for third in the Prep League and advanced to the first round of the Division VI playoffs.

Flintridge Prep might be in line for a return trip to the playoffs with the return of forwards Cole Rademacher and Manny Perez and defender Kurt Kozacik, who is fresh off helping the school’s football team win its first postseason contest since 2003.