Jesuit’s senior captains turned a 2013 SJS finals defeat into the flashpoint for an explosive 2014.
By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor
Teams often face a crossroads after a heart-wrenching loss on the biggest stage. The path chosen can lead to destruction or reconstruction.
The Jesuit boys soccer team experienced a painful loss at the feet of Granite Bay in the 2013 Sac-Joaquin Section Division I Championship which has defined the 2014 Marauders and their season-long quest. After giving up two late goals in the final minutes of a 2-1 overtime loss in the section final, Jesuit chose to come together rather than fall apart.
“Individualism last year impacted our performance,” senior captain Gonzalo Garcia said. “In the section final, the leadership was not there and Granite Bay showed up, played well, and made us pay for that.
“As a team captain, I want to change that and make sure that we are all part of the team and one family.”
Garcia and co-captain Luc Barbe, a three-year starter in goal for the Marauders, made it their mission to pull the team together, so that the program could return to what they consider its rightful place — atop the section and among the best in the nation.
“I decided to make it my goal to make everything inclusive,” Barbe said of rallying the team together for his final season on the high school pitch. “Last year’s team was a bit divided, so we made it our goal this year to be one team and have no separation of seniors from underclassmen. This year we are truly a team.”
That team spirit has resulted in Jesuit compiling an 21-1-1 record through Oct. 27 that includes a first-place standing in the Delta Valley League with an 8-1-1 mark. The Marauders’ lone loss— a 3-1 defeat inflicted by league- and section-rival Davis — came in mid-September when Jesuit was without the majority of its starters due to injuries, red card suspensions and disciplinary actions.
Since the loss, Jesuit has been perfect in 15 games, including a 2-1 victory over Davis in the rematch. That contest was played at Bonney Field, home field for local USL Pro League franchise Sacramento Republic FC, and illustrated the strength and depth of Jesuit’s roster this season.
Senior and leading scorer Diego Buenrostro opened the scoring and sophomore Lucas Churchill added the deciding goal before the Blue Devils pulled to within one goal with a late penalty kick. That a senior and sophomore lead the Marauders’ offense is testament to the newfound integration of the team, united for a common goal.
“We are integrated as a team this year with everyone willing to compete and put in the effort to succeed,” said Buenrostro, who leads the team with 18 goals. “We might not be as talented as some past teams, but the chemistry is definitely there. We feel that there is no reason we should be losing any games.”
Losing has long been uncommon at Jesuit.
Head coach Paul Rose, who began coaching in 1979, is the winningest high school soccer coach in California history and has guided the Marauders to nine section championships and a Top-25 national ranking every year since 1996. The program has lost just one game per season in each of the last three seasons, including the current campaign.
Jesuit’s attempted return to the top has been a total team effort, just as planned by the senior leaders. Barbe, an Army-commit, has been solid in the net and vocal in practice and games as he prepares for his leadership goals at the military academy in West Point. He will not likely match the state record of 24 shutouts he set as a sophomore on Jesuit’s 2012 section championship squad, but postseason victories — regardless of goals scored against — are far more important to posting a clean sheet.
Garcia, the other co-captain, anchors the midfield and provides a presence much larger than his frame. The Westmont College-commit has six assists this season, but teammates point to his work ethic as an inspiration and motivation.
“The work he puts in transfers onto the rest of the team,” Buenrostro said. “He is always working hard, and his energy amps up the team.”
His energy has led to a heightened level of play on both ends of the field and from all classes. Buenrostro (18 goals, 10 assists) and Churchill (10 goals, 12 assists) have filled the net with help from senior Nick Kolokotronis (eight goals, three assists). Junior Michael Mellor, who has missed time due to injury, is expected back soon to give the Marauders’ back line a boost for the postseason.
Still, Rose sits at the heart of the Jesuit program. He became the state’s winningest high school soccer coach by way of a calm and steady approach, but he leaves the worry of rankings and notoriety to others. The coach understands that his teams can only control the results of the games played on the field.
“I try to preach not to worry about the rankings because that is something we can’t control,” Rose said. “If you don’t win a section title, then the rankings don’t matter.
“You go out and try to win a league title to control home field in the playoffs, but none of that matters if you lose your last game.”
After Jesuit did just that — lost its last game — Barbe committed himself to lead the team to a victory in this season’s final game, with a painful reminder of 2013’s pain as motivation.
“On my desk at home, I still have the Division I bracket printed out with each round updated,” Barbe said. “After the final, I wrote ‘GRANITE BAY’ in big letters to serve as a reminder.”
Meanwhile, a rematch with Granite Bay seems more possible every day. The Grizzlies were 17-1-0 through Oct. 27, well on their way to taking the Sierra Foothill League title.
“I know what it’s like to win one and what it’s like to lose one,” Barbe concluded. “And I’m not going to lose another one.”
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