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September 23, 2022

Cougars’ football team says chemistry is key to success

SLV will be lead by an experienced trio of seniors

San Lorenzo Valley High senior Artem Wunar and his teammates are officially kicking off the new football season this weekend.

The starting quarterback is just three weeks into his new role but he’s already noticed some big changes within the group.

Wunar said the biggest difference is now they’re trying to work as one unit instead of feeling separated from the team just the way he did about a year ago. 

“This year we’re trying to get everyone to bond,” he said. 

It helped that the Cougars had a complete offseason with spring and summer practices, which was something the players didn’t have last year.

Covid-19 protocols for the 2021 season forced SLV to practice under strict guidelines.

They also canceled its season opener against George Washington High after players and coaches on the Cougars’ team had to quarantine for 10 days.  

The Cougars finished with a 2-7 overall record and they went 0-6 in the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Cypress Division.

SLV coach Andrew Milich said last year they fell behind to start the season and they lacked organization because of it, impacting both the players and the coaching staff.

“This year we had time to prepare, time to be with the kids, time to build that family that we’ve been speaking of,” Milich said. 

Milich had plenty of time this offseason to watch Wunar develop into his role as the starting quarterback. 

Milich said that Wunar has a great head on his shoulders and a strong arm that can deliver quick strikes when they need him too. 

“Sometimes a little too hard for our receivers’ hands,” Milich said. 

Senior lineman Ben Calden said this year has been about building team culture and trying to get rid of the bad that came from losing games last season. 

“All offseason we’ve just been putting in the work of ‘We don’t want to suck again,’” he said. “We want to be good this year, we want to win and we don’t want our senior years to be a crappy experience.”

The Cougars participated in the Santa Cruz County Jamboree at Cabrillo College on Aug. 19.

Milich said they’re moving through the ball and the boys are more than ready to play this season. He mentioned there were a lot of positive things that they can work on and a few coachable things they can get better at, but the spirits are uplifting.

“They’re hungry and they’re excited,” Milich said.

Wunar said they have a lot of new players that have little to no experience playing football, yet, they all came out ready to go, hitting people and playing hard.

“Everyone played hard, it was good to see,” he said.

Milich and members of the coaching staff including Joe Noce attended SLV, so they might know a little something about what it takes to build a family-type atmosphere on the team. 

Milich was a 6-foot-6, 300-pound two-way lineman who was instrumental on the 1999 squad that won the first of three Central Coast Section titles in a four-year span. 

“You’re only as strong as the man next to you,” he said.

Senior tailback and outside linebacker Aiden Lewis said they’ve been working on bringing more intensity and taking every challenge head-on. One of those challenges is being more aware of injuries and finding out ways to prevent them from happening. 

Lewis mentioned a majority of the team last year was sidelined due to injuries.

“We’re trying to limit that as much as we can,” said Lewis, who wears a guardian cap engineered for impact reduction. “We’re basically just gonna keep pushing through, just look forward.”

Lewis said they’ve been studying often in the film room to look at things they can work on in order to improve before the season opener. 

“Overall, as long as we stick to the game plan we’ll do alright,” he said.

Milich said that Lewis brings the drive to build a strong community and gets the kids moving in the same direction. 

“He’s a true captain,” Milich said. 

Calden, the anchor on both the offensive and defensive lines, has been with the program his entire life. He started as a ball boy and then moved up to water boy before putting on a Cougars uniform. 

“He’s been nothing but a blessing,” Milich said. “He’s been engulfed in SLV football forever and cares passionately about this…he’s been on the sideline since he’s been big enough to hold the ball.” 

The Cougars will have junior Dominic Chiechi returning as their lead receiver and defensive back. Last year he earned All-PCAL first team honors as a receiver. 

Sophomore tight end and inside linebacker Phillip Nattress will be a dynamic player who is quick to the ball and has a great attitude. Milich also has high hopes for sophomore Haden Scarborough, who will play on both the offensive and defensive line this year. 

 Calden said this year is about playing as a team, winning and losing as a team. 

“Hopefully winning a lot as a team,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a really fun product to watch. I think that we’re going to impress a lot of people.” 

The Cougars begin the season Friday night against Carlmont in Belmont just north of Redwood City. Kickoff is slated for 7pm.

SLV will continue non-league play with a meeting against rival Scotts Valley, followed by games against Richmond and Watsonville high schools.

The path to a Santa Lucia Division title begins with the league opener against Pajaro Valley on Sept. 24 at 12:30pm. 

The Cougars will then face Stevenson, Greenfield, Gonzales, Marina and Harbor to cap off the season.

Wunar said they expect a lot of competition as teams will claw their way for a Santa Lucia Division title.

“We expect to do pretty well, we expect to play well and we expect to, like I said, play as one unit. That’s the goal for this season,” he said.

Milich said at this point the Santa Lucia Division is where they belong and it’s where they’ll be more competitive. 

He mentioned SLV is one of the smallest public schools in the CCS, making it hard to compete against schools with thousands of kids.

They have a limited roster but Milich said they’re well conditioned and it’s the players’ attitudes and dedication that’s important to him. The way he sees it the Cougars will always be considered the underdog, no matter who they play or what they do. 

“But I’m going to expect to see dynamics. Some explosive offenses and a very stingy defense,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the San Lorenzo Valley High football team last year finished with an 0-6 record in the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Santa Lucia Division, which is incorrect. They competed in the PCAL’s Cypress Division, not the Santa Lucia.

San Lorenzo Valley High football schedule 

  • At Carlmont, 8/26 at 7pm
  • Scotts Valley, 9/3 at 2pm
  • Richmond, 9/10 at 2pm
  • Watsonville, 9/17 at 2pm
  • At Pajaro Valley*, 9/24 12:30pm
  • Stevenson*, 10/1 at 2pm
  • Greenfield*, 10/8 at 2pm
  • At Gonzales*, 10/14 at 7:30pm
  • Marina*, 10/22 at 2pm
  • At Harbor*, 10/29 at 2pm

*designates league game

Juan Reyes
A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.

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