2016-02-12 / Sports
Highlanders reign on
Boys’ soccer team secures fifth straight league crown
The Highlanders weren’t playing poorly during a busy 17-game preseason slate. They just didn’t look like the robust powerhouse that’s dominated the area for the last decade.
“The reason we schedule so many games, whether it’s win or lose, is to expose our flaws,” head coach Ignacio Saldain said. “When we lose, we learn a lot. It surfaces a lot of the things we don’t do well.”
The Highlanders (16-7-2 overall, 6-1-1 in the Coastal Canyon League) took note of the early hiccups. They learned enough to make the necessary adjustments and steamroll quality league foes en route to their second consecutive Coastal Canyon title, the school’s fifth straight league crown.
The Highlanders boast a talented lineup despite graduating 14 players last spring.
Carlos Espinoza, a senior, zoomed to a hot start with 12 goals. Defenses made adjustments so Royal had to find another goal scorer.
Alexis Garcia, a junior, stepped up big during league, putting away 10 goals in eight games to power the Highlander attack.
“All of a sudden the beast awakened,” the seventh-year coach said of Garcia.
Senior captains Thomas Hogan and Danny Robles patrol the midfield. Sophomore midfielder Marcos Matthews has played well since being called up from the junior varsity team to fill in for injured junior Angel Perez.
“He works so hard and he’s so trustworthy in the back,” Saldain said of the captain. “As a center back, he’s the manager of everything back there.
“I’ve never seen him get beat one-on-one all year, and he’s played against some very good forwards at Notre Dame and Simi Valley.”
Stokka said he was thankful his team was tested during league action. He said the final Coastal Canyon standings didn’t reflect how hard the Highlanders had to work to beat much-improved teams throughout the league.
“We came out strong. We knew we needed to because of some big opponents this year, especially Moorpark and Simi Valley,” he said. “They were definitely as good as we expected them to be, but we took care of them like we always do.”
Hogan said the team learned an important lesson after a 2-1 loss at Camarillo on Feb. 5 in the regular-season finale.
“When it comes down to those games that skill can’t win it, it has to be about the heart,” Hogan said. “It’s about who’s going to make that last sprint and who’s going to get that last push.”
Saldain said he believes his team is ready for any challenge.
“We have a lot of hopes for the postseason,” he said. “It’s five brutal games and you have to win five in a row. Hopefully, with a bit of luck, we’ll do our best. We’ll leave our heart on the field.”