The boys’ soccer team entered the season with a first-year head coach and facing a gauntlet of winter break tournaments. Over a ten-day stretch, the players participated in eight games, from which the team has emerged as a unit, prepared to take aim at a playoff run.
The squad had four wins, three losses and one tie over their two tournaments.
However, the greatest takeaway from the tournaments may have been the experience the team gained playing together despite missing a number of players due to the holiday break. Overall, Head Coach Kris Ward believed the tournaments were beneficial for the team.
“I think the tournaments and the early games were good to give me a sense of the level of competition that we’d be playing in general and the level of our team,” Ward said. “The tournaments in particular were a real [reality]-check for a lot of people.”
Ward is in his first season as Boys’ Soccer Program Head, having replaced Lucas Bongarra. Formerly an assistant scout for Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders, Ward is working to bring a winning culture to the soccer program.
“At the start of the season with the new head coach, it was a very different feel and vibe than the previous years,” center back Jeremy Yariv ’18 said. “[He] is very serious and takes his job as serious as any coach has ever taken it and really wants the best and the highest potential out of every player out here, so it’s really brought the level up of the entire team.”
Ward and his players have faced adversity throughout the season, dealing with injuries, absences, and the lack of a proper schedule.
“The first tournament, we played five games in fifty hours, and that’s a little nutty,” Ward said. “Now the games are a little more spaced out, but it’s on a more regular schedule. The guys have gotten used to a certain rhythm in training.”
Both team captains, Ethan Blaser ’17 and Theo Velaise ’17, went down with injuries in the season opener against Hueneme, which forced other players to step up.
“I think the strength of the team has really shown around that,” Ward said about his team’s health issues. “There’ve been guys who’ve stepped up, like Josh Lyons [’17]. When we had people who were hurt or couldn’t go, he stepped in and did a good job.”
Lyons was forced to play out of his natural position of left midfielder, filling in at left back.
“I’m just trying to get out there on the field to put my team in the best position to win games, and if that means playing positions I’m unfamiliar with, I’m up for it,” Lyons said. “It’s definitely a tough adjustment, but I’ve got the support of great teammates to help prepare me for these different positions.”
Lyons’ situation is not unusual amongst the players. The season has been marked with players rising to fill crucial roles, such as Will Roskin ’18 and Jacob Frank ’17.
Furthermore, the program has also been forced to look to underclassmen.
Langston Holly ’20 has started each of the team’s last six games, including both league matches.
Coming into their regular season, the team has posted a 0-0-2 record in league play, tying both Loyola and St. Francis last week.
While they did not beat Loyola, the squad was able to find positives in their performance. The defense held the defending CIF Division I champions scoreless, a distinction the players largely attribute to the preseason tournaments.
“I think [our hard work] was very visible in our game against Loyola, where we were able to fight for eighty minutes and hold a clean sheet,” Yariv said.
Following the Loyola match, the team posted an identical result against St. Francis last Friday, playing to another 0-0 draw. Notably, the game saw a trio of red cards awarded in the second half.
Although they failed to win either of their first two league matches, the team believes their results so far promise coming success, especially as the team begins to settle into a groove.
“This is a team filled with a bunch of young kids who want to win,” Yariv said. “Everyone has to prove themselves, and this has brought the level of the team very high. We’re looking at a good shot in playoffs, and we’re in for a good season.”