Keeping in step with a year-long pattern of sports success at Laguna Beach High, both soccer programs are putting together strong seasons that could end up rivaling the surprising efforts of last year’s baseball and football teams. “They want to do as well as their friends did in other sports,” said boys’ coach Daniel Richards, who sees a friendly rivalry between his players and other LBHS athletes.
Through last Tuesday, the boys were 5-1-3 overall and 1-0-1 in Orange Coast league play, their best record after nine games in at least six seasons. “We’re working really, really well together this year,” said senior forward Joseph Rousseau.
The girls were riding a seven-game unbeaten streak after dropping their first five. As of Tuesday they were 5-5-2 overall and 1-0-1 in league, putting them at the top of the Orange Coast standings for the first time in five years.
The girls kicked off league play with a home win over defending champs Estancia, ranked eighth in CIF. They followed that with a tie on the road against ninth-ranked Calvary Chapel. “We’re finally playing more as a team now,” said senior midfielder Marina Paul. “Beating [Estancia] in our first game at home was crucial.”
“We demonstrated to ourselves that we can compete at that level,” said Coach Bill Rolfing.
Coach Richard’s defense divides last year’s team from the current one. “He’s really focused on getting the defense to play strong, play together, play as a unit,” said Rousseau, the team’s leading scorer with seven goals, who knows the importance of guarding one’s own net.
Junior Bryce Williamson and senior Alec Williams serve as the two-headed monster in goal. Williamson took over for Williams, the projected starter injured before the season began. Since Williams’ return, the two have shared goaltending duties. Together, the tandem has allowed only seven goals in nine games through last Tuesday, including four shutouts.
Rolfing attributes the girls’ 0-5 start, scoring only one goal, to youth, a tough early schedule, and a pre-season battle for practice time. “November was real jammed on the field,” he said.
Their turn-around began with an impressive 2-1 home win over Division I Laguna Hills, and continued during a semester break trip, where Laguna faced Xavier Prep, Indio and Coachella Valley and came away with a 2-0-1 record.
The girls returned from holiday and continued to roll, beating a talented Ocean View team on the road before beginning league play. Their seven-game unbeaten streak strengthened their confidence and knit together a more cohesive offense. “That’s the best thing we have going for us is a good passing game,” said Rolfing. “We have to continue to rely upon our passing game, using the perimeter of the field, working the ball quickly from player to player.”
The high level of play on both teams is amplified by the fact that both coaches start an unusually high number of underclassmen. Talented club players and freshmen Evan Williams, Zach Jacobs, Harrison Gregory and Willy Wheeler have made a significant impact on the field.
Sophomore Chris Tellez is second to Rousseau in goals scored. Fellow sophomore Taylor Davidson and junior Reece Barton, co-captains, provide extra scoring punch and leadership for a hungry squad eager to return to post-season.
In his second year as head coach, Richards has tried to instill discipline and a more professional attitude among his players to keep them focused. “He takes training very seriously,” said Rousseau. “He’s really taken hold of the program and changed it around.”
“The kids are buying into it and are starting to see the benefit,” said Richards.
As many as six underclassmen fill Rolfing’s line-up on any given game day, including two outstanding freshmen, center defender Amy Hewlett and goalkeeper Kylie George. “It was real nice to have [George] walk onto the field this fall,” said Rolfing. The two defenders “really given us a lot of confidence in the back,” he added.
As of last Tuesday, both teams had eight league games remaining. They will need to be at their best if they hope to do what many other LBHS programs have done this past year, win a league title. It would be the boys fourth in their 36-year history and a first in 30 years of girls soccer.
“I really want to make it to CIF and prove that we’re just as good as the other teams at our school,” said the Georgetown-bound Paul. “It’s crunch time. We need to get the results on the board.”