MAP QUEST: Despite making five SJS finals in six years, Bella Vista-Fair Oaks soccer feels it still has more to prove.
By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor
It’s hard to believe that a team that has earned a spot in the Sac-Joaquin Section championship game in five of the last six years can fly under the radar. But that’s just where the Bella Vista Broncos believe they have been unfairly placed.
They don’t feel like the program is on the map. Not yet.
“I feel like we get skipped over when people talk about the top programs in the section,” said senior captain Tyler Miguel, who has played in a pair of Division II section finals in his first three years on the varsity team of the Fair Oaks school. “We kind of like it, though, because it gives us motivation to show people they are wrong.”
Not many people consider Bella Vista underdogs, but the Broncos, who have compiled an 8-0-1 record this season, do not garner the national or regional recognition that other local programs receive.
While high profile programs like Jesuit-Carmichael and Granite Bay play in national tournaments against high profile opponents to earn spots in the national and regional polls of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA).
Bella Vista head coach Zack Contreras has focused on winning league and section games before returning his players to their club teams healthy, happy, and hopefully with some hardware. In his six previous seasons as the varsity head coach, Contreras has won two Division II championships, including the 2011 title, and reached five section finals (the Broncos fell in the 2009 semifinal, their earliest exit under Contreras).
Contreras has seen plenty of success and talent in his stint on the Fair Oaks campus, but he admits that he has never been blessed with the talent and depth that exists on the 2012 squad.
“This is definitely the most talented and deepest team that I have had, without a doubt,” he said.
“I can move guys around and interchange parts without missing a beat. I have so many talented players that the hardest task I have is finding time for all of them to play.”
A large number of players return from last year’s section title team, but the boost to the talent pool has come from both brand new and familiar faces to the program. Newcomers like freshman goalkeeper Drake Callendar and senior forward/midfielder Trevor Jackson have blended right in, as has an old face in senior midfielder Stefan Sarkovich who missed the 2011 season when he had to give up high school soccer to play for the California Developmental Academy (CDA) team.
Callendar, who gets to play with older brother Ian, a senior forward/midfielder on the team, fills a large void left by Alexander Waldron. Waldron will play in the CDA program this year after anchoring the Broncos’ defense as a freshman in 2011. Callendar, at 6-foot-4, is an imposing presence in goal and nearly impenetrable thus far with four shutouts to his credit.
Sarkovich is a highly-skilled technician with the ball who Contreras believes will quarterback the offense from his midfield position. The most prolific recipient of passes from Sarkovich and the rest of the Broncos has been Jackson, who moved to the area from Tucson, Arizona, shortly after Bella Vista concluded its 2011 season. Jackson has scored a team-leading 12 goals and added three assists in nine games.
“Getting Trevor was lucky for us,” Contreras said. “He just fell in my lap and is a very skilled and popular player.”
Jackson has a knack for finding the back of the net, but the senior believes that he is only as good offensively as his teammates that get him the ball.
“I certainly don’t lack for firepower, but it’s not me starting the plays when I score,” he said. “The team’s job is to get me the ball in a position to score when I play up top and I have been fortunate to get some great feeds.”
Bella Vista has the luxury of multiple scoring options, according to Contreras, especially with the possession style that the Broncos play so well.
While many high school teams rely on long balls and one or two scorers, the Broncos work hard to control the ball and tempo of the game to set up higher percentage scoring opportunities while keeping the ball away from their opponents.
“The possession style has been a staple of our program,” Contreras said. “We try to break down the defense and create opportunities with the third or fourth guy making a run, and with combination plays.”
That recipe has been perfect as Bella Vista was unbeaten in nonleague play and opened Capital Valley League competition with a 4-0 shutout of 2012 upstart Rio Linda. However, the possession game relies as much on the defense controlling the tempo as the offense. Senior captain Preston Davis anchors the back line from his central defense position and takes a leadership role on the field with all of the action in front of him.
“My job is to organize the team on the field and relay what I see from my position,” he said. “With our style of play, we try to stay compact in the back and try to get our outside backs to attack more to support the forwards when they can.”
Often, what Davis and his teammates see on the field is shared with Contreras, who likens himself to a game manager and tactician on the sideline. His goal is to prepare his team both mentally and physically, so that the players can take ownership on the field with confidence.
“I work a lot on mental focus,” said Contreras, who gives his players more handouts than some teachers. “We talk a lot about mental preparation and discipline to keep your eyes on the prize.”
Contreras also emphasizes sacrifice — whether it is passing on junk food, or a weekend party — as a necessary part of the work the team must put in to win another championship.
“Last year, our motto was ‘Hard work will beat talent when talent doesn’t work hard,’” he said. “We have to put in the work and have laser vision looking straight ahead.”
Miguel, who is a four-year varsity player along with Davis, understands the program’s emphasis on discipline and preparation as well as the target on the Broncos’ backs that success has created. Like the expectation of reaching another section title match, Miguel expects every opponent to bring their best effort in an attempt to knock the champion from its throne.
“Coach tells us that the target on our backs is huge now,” he said. “But we welcome that. I like knowing that teams will be playing their best against us and will be coming at us with everything they’ve got.”
While the Broncos may have targets on their backs, they are focused on the target they set at the beginning of this season—to repeat as section champions.
“We know that other programs may get all of the recognition,” Davis said, “but we really want to repeat and get Bella Vista soccer on the map.
‘We want to show everyone that we are a power in the Sacramento area.”
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