SCORING GOALS Striker Caleb Perez, junior, dribbles past defenders in order to create a shot opprotunity.
SCORING GOALS Striker Caleb Perez, junior, dribbles past defenders in order to create a shot opprotunity.
Bren Belmonte

Boys soccer makes history in CIF playoffs

   On Feb. 15, the Gabrielino High School boys varsity soccer team played in their third round of CIF against Oxford Academy. Though they lost 2-0, it was the farthest the team has ever gotten, and its first time as Mission Valley League champions.

   “The past season, I’ve learned to trust your teammates, like you can’t do anything yourself,” said boys soccer captain and center back Nick Ludington, senior.

   While Gabrielino’s chemistry and support for each other are typically their strengths, in the game against Oxford Academy, the Eagles got caught up in the score and were not able to work together smoothly.

   “We weren’t playing as a team,” said captain and center back Zachary Hill, senior. “We weren’t able to click throughout the whole game.”

   Previously, the Eagles won 6-1 on Feb. 11 against Rancho Alamitos High School, securing their goal of winning the game definitively. Senior Jaycob Espinosa, forward, scored a hat trick with three out of the six goals.

   “Our starting forward got a red card, so I knew I had to step up,” explained Espinosa.

   In the days before the game, the team prioritized cycling the ball between teammates and not over-dribbling. The practice paid off, as they were able to open opportunities to move forward by keeping the ball moving between players instead of forcing their way across the field.

   Though skill and strategy were important, much of the team’s success came from its mindset. After an emotional playoff game two nights before, the Eagles went into the game against Rancho Alamitos calm, collected, and confident.

   “I just tried to breathe, just clear my mind,” Ludington said. “Make sure I’m just focusing on the field, nothing else.”

   By remaining focused and relaxed, the Eagles hit their stride and had a comfortable 4-0 lead at halftime. After scoring another two goals in the second half, the team celebrated with music on the bus ride home.

   “We felt like we had gotten the jitters out with our first-round matchup, and like we could really stay true to how we play and then easily win,” stated Ludington.

   On Feb. 9, the Eagles won their first playoff game 2-0 against Gladstone High School. It was a home game against a Gabrielino rival, as Gladstone’s coach used to lead the Gabrielino team. Coupled with it being boys soccer’s first time competing at CIF, the players went into the game nervous but motivated. 

    “I felt like they were just a little bit too worked up, with it being our first playoff game,” stated boys soccer coach Christopher Ferrer. “We were trying to play at a high pace when we need to just play our style where it’s just calm, collected, and composed.”

   In the first half, the team’s offense and defense were both strong. Soccer captain and attacking midfielder Jose Perez, senior, was able to maneuver around the other team, while junior Caleb Perez, striker, scored the only two goals in the game.

   On defense, senior Alan Diaz, goalkeeper, and centerbacks Ludington and Hill made critical decisions to keep the ball away from Gabrielino’s goal. Among several saves executed cleanly and without hesitation, Diaz said his proudest moment was saving the penalty kick in the first half.

   The team’s frustration from not scoring further in the second half weakened their offense while their defense remained consistent. After getting a yellow and a red card, Caleb Perez was taken off the field.

    “It’s kind of a bittersweet win because we got a red card,” said Jose Perez. “[We need to work on] keeping our heads cool.”

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