It’s been a season of trials and tribulations for San Lorenzo Valley High senior Damian Cardenas and the rest of the boys’ soccer team.
The Cougars were shut out for the sixth time in a 4-0 loss to Aptos High in Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League play on Tuesday.
Going into the game, Cardenas said he knew the Mariners were a solid group and every player on the team can play the ball well. However, there was a glimpse of hope and perseverance despite not being able to get the victory.
“I think what we did is we held them off as much as we could,” he said. “We don’t have the skill that they do but we have the hard work, we have determination and every player was out there defending … we held our own and they got four shots on us.”
Cardenas said that playing in tough situations such as Tuesday night’s match against the Mariners shows that they can keep up with the best of them.
“We can compete against every other team,” he said. “Sometimes they get lucky goals, sometimes there’s mistakes made but we know we can hold our own.”
SLV coach Memo Cardenas, who is Damian’s father, said they struggle each year to fill in a roster. Still, he believes the players are having fun and enjoying themselves.
“That’s all I can ask them to do,” Memo said.
The Cougars had a decent preseason by finishing with a 2-2-1 record. They began SCCAL play with a 7-0 loss to Harbor High, the defending Central Coast Section Division IV champion.
That was followed up with five-straight losses in league play. Cardenas helped SLV snap its losing skid with a goal in their 4-1 win against Scotts Valley on Jan. 27.
The Cougars will try to bounce back and end the season on a high note, starting with a rematch against Soquel High on Thursday. They were edged by the Knights, 2-1, in the teams’ first meeting. The results of Thursday’s game were not known before press time.
“We’re going to give it our all on our home field,” Cardenas said. “We’re looking forward to the next games.”
Cardenas is one of seven seniors and a team captain along with Jackson Kueny, Caleb Gabrielson, Isaiah Jarero and Gavin Mays. Ryan Convisser and Jesus Navarro are also playing in their senior year.
Cardenas realizes that their skill level isn’t anywhere near most of the best teams within the league, yet, he’s fully confident in the direction they’re heading.
“I just thought, this is my final year, I’m a captain. I just gotta be an example and be a leader,” he said. “I try to communicate with all the players, try to yell as much as I can and motivate some of these kids. Show them how to play and play with all of them.”
SLV is set to have a large group of juniors returning next season. That includes Dempsey Miller, Wyatt Berridge, Julian Hughes, Juan Lopez, Milo Carrington, Charles Hammer and Shelby Monowitz.
The underclassmen are well represented by sophomores Aiden Nounnan, Jac Chisler, Owen Garrahan and goalie John Clinkenbeard, and freshman Ryan Baker.
Memo Cardenas praised his young goalkeeper and mentioned that Clinkenbeard has kept them in a lot of their games. Cardenas said the defense has also stepped it up, including Monowitz who converted from a winger to a defender.
“He’s one of the kids that has stepped up and works so hard back there,” Cardenas said.
Cardenas added that the young players are improving day by day and he couldn’t ask for anything more.
“We try to do the best we can with what we have,” he said. “We’re a super small school compared to these guys: Aptos, Soquel, Harbor. They have more to choose from and I get what comes my way.”
Cardenas said he’s doing his best to get them up to speed and he notices the hard work they’ve been putting in throughout the season.
“I think we’re a good team, it’s just we play against better teams,” he said.
Damian Cardenas said the players on this year’s squad have been playing on club teams and playing together as a unit. He mentioned that they’ve had players in the past that were too aggressive and they didn’t know how to touch the ball.
“Now we have much better skilled players and you can see it,” he said. “You can see how we touch the ball, it’s a much different year this year … this is probably the best that we’ve seen in a long time and it’s only going to keep getting better next year. I think there’s a lot of hope for SLV.”
Cardenas said it’s bittersweet because it was nice to play on a talented team, but he won’t get to enjoy it as much knowing that his high school career is coming to an end.
His goal is to return down the road to keep an eye on the program as it flourishes in the upcoming years. But for now, there’s two games left on the schedule and all he wants is his teammates to work hard to cap the season.
“I just want to see everybody freakin’ yelling and enjoying it, having fun, talking to each other and putting in a bunch of effort,” Cardenas said. “That’s all I want to see because I know we can. We just have to have the effort, the determination on every single play.”
SLV (3-8-1, 1-6) will host Scotts Valley in the teams’ SCCAL finale on Saturday at 1pm.