When the boys’ varsity soccer team began its season, Sam Clement ’14, Nick Knight ’14 and Milan Sanchez-Johnson ’15 were starters.
When the team stepped on the field for its Jan. 17 game against Alemany, the three were missing from the field, having all been dismissed from the team prior to the match.
Now, after concluding its regular season with a 2-0 loss against Loyola Feb. 10 and an overall record of 4-5-3, the boys’ soccer squad will continue pursuing a wild card playoff spot without veterans Clement, Knight and Sanchez-Johnson.
Players said the trio was dismissed from the team because they did not see eye-to-eye with head coach Lucas Bongarra, and that Bongarra felt repeatedly disrespected by the players through their attitudes and frequent absence from practice.
“I’m conflicted about it because I don’t really like Coach Bongarra, but being kicked off the team wasn’t undeserved – I think it was a rash decision on Bongarra’s part, but I can see where it was coming from,” one boys’ soccer player who wished to remain anonymous said. “I mean, a lot of the kids are conflicted about it because on the one hand, Sam, Milan and Nick were pretty good players, but they were disrespectful. That’s not really what you should be doing to any coach, whether you like them or not, there has to be some level of respect – I mean you have to pretend that you respect him, even if you don’t.”
Knight, who was a captain on the squad, believes his disagreements with the head coach did not warrant being removed from the team.
“[Bongarra] told me that, as people, we ‘clashed,’ that we had different ideas of soccer and that it would be better if we ‘just stopped,’” Knight said. “I did not understand that very much. We had some conflict earlier in the season, but nothing serious in my opinion. Of course I may be blinded, because I’m probably biased towards myself, but I think my teammates would support the fact that I did not misbehave to any extreme level that deserved that punishment.”
Clement, as well as the Athletic Department and Bongarra, declined to comment on the issue.
The trio’s dismissal hit the team hard and upset their former teammates, but having played seven games without Clement, Knight and Sanchez-Johnson, the Wolverines have tried to regroup.
“I think that the players that were kicked off the team were very vital to the team,” a second anonymous player said. “We feel incomplete without them. But I think everyone now understands the message that Lucas was trying to get across: that one’s attitude is just as important as one’s skill on the field.”
“It’s really cooled off a lot,” the first anonymous source said. “When he cut them, a large group of us were on the fence about just quitting the team. But since that time it’s really calmed down a lot. We’ve really just hunched our shoulders and gotten through it – we’re really playing more for each other than for him.”
When the Wolverines lost three of their starters midway through the season, underclassmen had the opportunity to get more playing time.
Henry Quilici ’15 had a breakout season for the team, including leading the team to multiple victories this season.
Quilici also holds the highlight play of the year for the squad when he caught the keeper off his line and kicked a rocket into the upper right hand corner of the net from 35 yards out to lock up a 3-1 victory against Notre Dame.
“The team has definitely improved,” Quilici said. “I think that we found the play style that worked for us the best a little too late in season so next season we will not make the same mistake. We will be at our top form from the first game.”
The Wolverines will look to build next year on the core of Cole Fletcher ’15 and Charles du Manoir ’15. Jono Klein ’15 and Nicolas Greenlee ’15 have also taken on more responsibility throughout the year due to the removal of the three starters.
Goalkeeper Ryan Shelly ’15 returned to play this season as well after tearing his meniscus and ACL last year and took over the starting role after Clement was kicked off the team.
“Next year we believe as a team that we have the ability to win league and make a deep playoff run,” Glick said. “Despite losing a great senior class from this year, we still think that talent-wise we can compete with anyone. It’s just a matter of consistency, staying healthy, and playing as a team.”
After losing to the Cubs on Monday, the Wolverines will have to wait about a week before they find out their position in the CIF Division I bracket.
The Wolverines finished fourth in league and tied Loyola, the best team in the Mission League, in their first meeting
“At first, it was hard to adjust to the absence of the players that were once so vital to our team,” Quilici said. “We were slowly able to develop a play style that worked without these players; however, the three seniors are still very missed by the team and there still [was] a feeling of incompleteness lingering.”