January 20, 2019, is not a day forgotten by many members of the San Marcos High boys soccer team, especially the seniors.
On that day, the Royals defeated Santa Barbara 3-0 at La Playa Stadium. It was the first time in seven years that San Marcos had bested their crosstown rival – a feeling that resonated with every player.
“That was the most fun game the entire season,” senior defender Connor Hess said.
“We were coming in not expecting to win and then to beat them 3-0 and to shut them down was just so much fun.”
At that point in the season, the Royals were on fire. They were 6-0 in league play and held an overall mark of 12-4-5.
Fast forward 10 days and the two teams met again, this time with a championship on the line as the winner would take the Channel League crown. And, this time, it was Santa Barbara who dominated the match from start to finish, beating San Marcos 3-0 en route to its fourth straight league title.
It’s a moment that also is not forgotten by many members of the team.
In fact, it’s something that motivates them this season.
“Definitely. It’s something that has been present in all of our minds,” Hess said.
“At least for me if I could have changed anything last season it would have been to beat them. That was probably the biggest disappointment.”
So far this season, the Royals have looked good. San Marcos currently owns a record of 4-1-1 with its most recent result, a 1-1 tie of Arroyo Grande on Tuesday night, showcasing a team with a bunch of talent despite the draw.
In fact, so far this season, the Royals have yet to be shut out and have had two three-goal matches with both resulting in wins.
Senior captains Levi Sheffey and Matt Hislop give the offense a great pace of play while the backline also holds up thanks to senior Julio Montes.
Now a regular starter, Hess has also had to step up for his team in a lot of different ways. Even though he is not a captain, the senior still plays a vital role in the team
“One of the big things we lack is communication so that has been my way of stepping up is forcing communication between all of us. Communication is evident with how confident you are on the ball because you’re constantly talking out there,” Hess said.
Last season, Hess said that a lot of the communication on defense centered around Michael Palmer, a captain last season. He said it has been a big loss, but it has “at least forced me to at the very least try to do what he did.”
San Marcos one loss on the season comes against the same opponent it hopes to beat in January, Santa Barbara.
The two crosstown rivals met in the title game of the Cats and Hounds Tournament in Paso Robles. Santa Barbara would come away the victor, 3-1.
In that game, however, the Royals were missing two captains and even Hess who did not travel with the team. So while the Dons had the upper hand on Saturday, it does not mean it will be that way when the two teams meet in exactly one month from today.
“Considering how many players we were missing we actually did pretty well so when we play them again I think it’ll be a much, much different game,” Hess said.
The four-time defending Channel League champions have not missed a beat to start the season. After a tie against Moorpark to start the year, the Dons have picked up five wins in a row, including a tournament title after a 3-1 victory over San Marcos at the Cats and Hounds Tournament hosted in Paso Robles.
Two years removed from a CIF title, Santa Barbara is still one of the most imposing teams and still holds some of the best talents in the Channel League.
“One of the biggest keys is returning Connor Lambe. Bringing him back as a goalkeeper gives our backline some confidence especially having two sophomores back there in front of him,” Santa Barbara coach Todd Heil said.
Entering his 24th season as the Dons’ head coach, Heil has a great track record which includes more than 400 wins, three CIF titles and one regional title.
“Kids that play in our program understand our tradition and they want to continue that not just in channel league but in the playoffs and it helps us always be consistently good,” Heil said.
The Chargers have had a strong start to the season as, after a 3-1 win over Ventura on Tuesday, they improved to 3-1 overall themselves.
Coach Mark Yost said the key difference this season is how well the team is getting along with each other both on and off the pitch.
“I think this year more than years past, we have done a great job of moving the ball around and helping each other,” Yost said.
“The game has slowed down for a lot of the guys and we are seeing the reward from all their training. They believe it is their time to shine.”
Forward Aldo Becerril has had a fantastic start to his senior campaign registering a goal in each game for a total of five so far this season.
One newcomer to the team that has Yost excited as well is Robert Montalvo.
The senior center back missed most of last season battling injury but he is healthy now and playing at a high level.
“He is just a godsend for us this season. He plays so calm, calculated and smooth and is there for this team when he needs to be. He has been a joy for me to watch,” Yost said.
Sitting at 3-1-2 so far this season, coach Marco Vargas expects big things out of his Lompoc team this season.
With more than 10 seniors on the team, Vargas will be relying on his savvy vets to lead the Braves to some key victories this season after an 0-7 mark in Channel League last season.
“This is their last year and they want to go out with that thing (league title) and make their names in the postseason and really just get over that hump,” Vargas said.
The key to that for Lompoc will be its defense as they are big in the backline.
Aldo Anguiano and Anthony Morales are two senior defenders in particular that Vargas praised for their defensive pressure and play.
Overall, Vargas believes that his teams’ ability to grind games out will be huge come Channel League play.
“Everything will be super competitive and we will have to grind things out especially against those tough Santa Barbara teams but I am confident in our team. Whether we have to get a goal late or hold on I think they are up for it,” Vargas said.
After finishing in third place last season in the Channel League, coach Rick Joyner wants to show the league that his team is not just “a flash in the pan.”
“We are a small school so we have to have everybody on the same page as to what we are doing on the field. The No. 1 goal on our list is to show everyone that we can compete with these bigger schools and be successful,” Joyner said.
Now in his fifth season as the head coach, Joyner noted that playing in the Channel League, particularly against the Santa Barbara schools, is tough because of the sheer talent they have, however, he also believes his team could “accomplish anything as long as they come together as a group.”
Senior midfielder Nico Rocha is someone he said the team relies on heavily as his versatility makes him useful.
Overall, Joyner said it will take all 11 players to see some wins in January especially since his team is a bit young with only seven seniors on his 20 man roster.
“We like the progress but we still have to make the climb,” Joyner said.
Last season went about as bad as it could for Cabrillo. The Conquistadores’ went just 3-15-1 overall and 0-8 in the Channel League while giving up 91 goals.
Led by sophomore Bennett Richards, Cabrillo hopes to showcase a lot more offensive firepower this season, helping them keep pace with the rest of the league.
Defensively, junior Gerardo Mendoz will be key as he is one of the teams’ most experienced defenders.