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February 5, 2023

Cougars strive to establish new culture | Boys soccer

SLV players continue to build chemistry on the pitch

The future is looking mighty bright for the San Lorenzo Valley High boys’ soccer team, which this season will have more than half of its roster with club level experience.

Cougars’ first-year coach Andy Lopez knows having players compete at the higher level, especially for the same team, is vital because it clearly shows during game situations when teammates have to trust each other.

“I think it’s a huge thing they’ve already played together,” he said.

Lopez—who took over the program after previous coach Memo Cardenas stepped down—mentioned this year’s squad is the most talented team he’s seen in a long time.

“I’m hard on them, that’s just how it is,” he said. “It’s varsity soccer, you gotta be hard on them. Keep holding them accountable, that’s the biggest thing, and when they see what I bring to the table and the intensity, it kind of reflects all of us. I think it’s awesome.”

Twelve of the Cougars’ 18 players compete on club teams over the hill in the South Bay Area including senior Julian Hughes.

“It helps with conditioning and being rusty after you haven’t touched the ball in nine, 10 months,” he said.

Jac Chisler, Owen Garrahan and Ryan Baker all play together for a different club team under former Turkish international soccer star Hakan Sukur. 

Sukur—who scored the fastest ever goal in 10.8 seconds against South Korea at the 2002 FIFA World Cup—is undoubtedly the best player to compete for Turkey. He played for several European clubs including Galatasaray, Inter Milan and Blackburn Rovers.  

Hughes has been impressed by Baker, a sophomore, who has a nice touch on the ball and is lined up to be in the next generation of lowerclassmen that will take over the program in the near future.

“It’s fun to see him play,” Hughes said.

SLV hasn’t had an overall winning record in 16 years since it finished 10-7-4 overall. They were runner-up with a 6-3-1 league record behind Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League champion Santa Cruz High in the 2006-07 season.

Hughes has suffered too many losses on the pitch over the years since joining the program as a freshman. He strongly believes that can change this season.

The Cougars were hoping to begin SCCAL play on the right foot, but they fell short after a 3-0 loss to Harbor High in the teams’ league opener Tuesday.

“It was a tough loss but they’re one of the best teams that we’re going to play, so we need to learn from it,” Hughes said. “We’re going to return next time with a closer score, hopefully win.” 

Hughes said one takeaway from the loss is learning how to keep composure and not let something like a two-goal lead get to their heads.

Another major part of the inconsistency is the large roster turnover due to players graduating or transferring to another school. 

Hughes said SLV doesn’t have a student enrollment size advantage as other schools in Santa Cruz County. He mentioned soccer isn’t that big of a deal in the valley as it is in Santa Cruz and the Pajaro Valley in Watsonville.

“It’s difficult, but it’s fun to play teams better than you because you can learn so much from them,” he said.

Hughes mentioned at first it was a challenge to get the players on the same page. The team captain stressed to his teammates the importance of building relationships, which then leads to team chemistry on the pitch.

Hughes and fellow senior team captain Milo Carrington continue on working to change the culture at SLV. 

“Playing with your teammates is going to help you all be able to play as a team instead of playing as individual players,” Hughes said.

The rest of the Cougars roster includes the Monowitz brothers—Shelby and Sandy, John Clinkenbeard, Oliver New, Dempsey Miller, Aiden Nounnan, Enrique Martinez, Francisco Rocha and Wyatt Berridge.

“I don’t need them to be superstars or Messis or Ronaldos,” Hughes said. “As long as they put in 100% into practice and to games, that’s all I am asking for.”

The biggest challenge for Lopez has been creating a soccer culture at SLV that has players believing they can hang with the best that the SCCAL has to offer.

He mentioned that teams in the past would look at the Cougars as the doormat of the league, which is something he also wants to change. 

SLV (3-1-0, 0-1-0) will compete against Aptos (4-4), Harbor (6-1-1, 1-0-0), Scotts Valley (0-2-1), Santa Cruz (1-1) and Soquel (0-3) for a crack at their first ever league crown.

“I think we have potential to go to the top, it just depends on the players and how much they want to put into it,” Lopez said. “They have some of the best talent I’ve seen in a long time, but it’s just getting that work ethic and just trying to work your tail off. It’s tough to be at the top.”

The Cougars continue SCCAL action at home against Santa Cruz on Friday at 1pm. 

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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