Lucas Bongarra likes to start his boys’ soccer team practices at 6 a.m. He says that the team has limited field space in the fall while football and field hockey are in season, but he likes the message he sends to his team by requiring his players at the field just after the sun comes up.
“The idea of getting up in the morning and going to play soccer, it’s a great feeling,” Bongarra said. “I’ve done it for many years in my time. I know it’s been a little bit of a culture change, but the fact that you are getting up that early to go training, it prepares you mentally for what’s to come.”
Bongarra, a former semi-professional soccer player from Argentina, will coach his first game on Nov. 26 against Bell Gardens. Former Head Coach Freddy Arroyo will lead the junior varsity boys’ team this year. Bongarra’s intensity has already changed the culture of a soccer team that faded towards the end of season last year.
“We started off really well [last year], probably one of the most talented teams we had in a while, and it didn’t really work out in the end,” midfielder Matthew Glick ’15 said. “I think with the new coach, we can definitely improve on where we went last year and hopefully make a deeper run and possibly win league.”
The Wolverines, who finished 17-5-3 last year in 8-3-1 in league, were knocked out of the Division II CIF playoffs in the first round by Thousand Oaks. They finished in second place in the Mission League behind rival Loyola, who beat the Wolverines in both matchup a during the season. Defender Akosa Ibekwe ’13 said that the team could have beaten both Loyola and Thousand Oaks had it not have been for lapses in focus late in the season.
“That’s where the discipline will come in,” Ibekwe said. “Last year, the only reason why we didn’t win league was because of lack of discipline. In the last couple of games and coming into playoffs, we faltered in our form.”
In addition to ramping up the intensity, Bongarra hopes to serve as a liason between the school and Italian soccer club AC Milan. The school and the club formed a partnership last year when the two decided to pursue research in sports medicine together. Bongarra, the director of youth development for the club in southern California, hopes to eventually implement AC Milan’s complex training method called the MilanLab into the Harvard-Westlake program. The MilanLab uses various computer programs to track the conditioning of players.
“We are excited for the relationship,” Bongarra said. “The response from the club and from the community has been tremendous.”
With a new sense of motivation, the team is confident it can win the team’s first league title since 1998.
However nine players graduated from last year’s squad, including two of the team’s top three scorers, Adam Winninger ’12 and Alex Goodwin ’12.
Additionally, striker Cole Fletcher ‘15 quit to team to play basketball, Glick may miss time as he recovers from a torn ACL and striker Jack Temko ‘14 left the team to play exclusively for an out of school soccer academy. However, the team returns three of four starters on defense and the team’s leading scorer from last year, Ty Gilhuly ’13. Patrick Angelo ’14 expects the team to have consistent play from its defense, but he say the team will need offensive players to step up for the Wolverines to make a deep playoff run.
“Hopefully, we’ll get a lot of different positions scoring,” Angelo said. “Ty will pull through again this year, but hopefully we’ll get a lot of different guys scoring among the midfield scoring as well.”