SportStars Magazine

Run At Redemption

A crushing playoff upset in 2011 has given rise to a very driven Acalanes soccer team. Can it run the table?

By MATT SMITH | Contributor


Entering the 2012-2013 season, the Acalanes High boys soccer team had been on a four-year stretch that would make any soccer program proud.

In addition to a North Coast Section Division II title, and two appearances in the title game, the Dons have piled up 65 wins against just 14 losses, to go along with 22 draws. They’ve won nearly five times more than they’ve lost, and three times more than they’ve drawn.

However, despite all that recent success, this season’s version of the Acalanes Dons might just be the best the school has fielded over these last five years of dominance.

After back-to-back games on Jan. 11 and 12 against two of the better teams in the East Bay, Campolindo and Ygnacio Valley, Acalanes is 14-0-2 and opened the season with 14 straight wins.

“The chemistry of this team is very good,” Acalanes coach Paul Curtis said. “Captains Eric Rogstad and Dan Glascock are doing a fine job of leading the 23 students. This team has remarkable depth and is laden with a significant number of highly skilled players. Many of the players are being asked to play in a position different than they have in the past. Their readiness to make these changes speaks to their character and that they have a clear understanding of the notion of teamwork.”

There may also be another driving force behind this team’s white-hot start as well, and it isn’t a positive memory. In fact, it’s probably one of the few bad memories this program has experienced in recent years.

After earning the top seed in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Dons were a heavy favorite over 16th-seeded St. Mary’s-Berkeley. It was the first time the bracket had expanded to 16 teams, which allowed the team that tied for third in the then-existent Bay Shore Athletic League, to qualify for the playoffs.

The Panthers shocked the Dons 1-0. Soccer is a game that is more prone to upsets than any other, but Acalanes rarely ever loses a game in which it’s expected to win.

The players and coaches don’t dwell on the past, but it’d be foolish to think that this memory isn’t providing fuel for at least a few Dons.

“As a group there is no significant conversation about the past,” Curtis said. “Individually no doubt there are some players who vividly recall that match. The boys were well prepared, but the execution did not develop well. That is one of the beauties of the game. In the end, execution will win out.”

Seniors like Glascock, Ben Croze, Luc Van Oss and Nick Warren are among those who probably remember that game well. Not coincidentally they are also players who are helping lead the Dons run this year.

The first three have combined for 14 of the team’s 41 goals through 13 games, while Warren, along with keepers Rogstad and Eric Sirott, leads a defense that had only allowed five goals. That’s right, the Dons outscored opponents 41-5 over their first 13 games. 

What also helps is the return of junior Marko Helfrich. He spent most of the last two seasons either injured or with the Academy program, and provides yet another scoring threat.

“Marko is a fine player who is well skilled and has some superb weapons,” Curtis said. “He is continuing to develop as a young man and an athlete. He brings enthusiasm, talent and fun to the training, performances and other activities.”

What that means is Acalanes can score in bunches. This is somewhat of a departure from previous defensive Dons teams.

In the past, it’s been normal for them to get the first goal and then completely lock the other team down, winning 1-0, or maybe adding a late goal on a counterattack.

But this year’s team is different.

“While the tradition of being stingy on defense continues, the ability of the team to attack more aggressively is directly related to the boys understanding of how best to capitalize on each other’s strengths within the system,” Curtis said. “There were some highly talented players who were held back some last season both on varsity and on the junior varsity team.”  

The reason for this is that last season’s varsity team had 14 seniors. To accommodate that, some players that would normally have played varsity, stayed down on JV to improve.

If there are two words that Curtis uses more than any when talking about his soccer team, they are “character” and “teamwork.” They are words that are often used to define the Acalanes program, as it is known for being one of the most well-run, disciplined and organized programs in the East Bay. 

“Having expectations that are reasonable, achievable and consistent has proven to be a good way to help develop character in young people,” Curtis said. “There is one team rule in the program, it is rather simple and helps drive home the philosophy of the program on a daily basis. From that rule all behavior and activity is measured and that includes both players and coaches.”

The one team rule is directly correlated with the overall goals of the program, which aims at helping the boys grow as individuals.

“The goals are pretty simple,” Curtis said. “Be the best players, best individuals, best sons, best students, best team that they can be. The Acalanes program stresses the importance of being a balanced individual who is, with confidence and maturity, able to handle whatever situation shows up in life. There is no emphasis on individual accomplishments, records, or attainments until the season is completed.”

A byproduct of running a program focused on helping kids grow, mature and progress is that it usually ends up paying off in wins, thanks to lessons of discipline and camaraderie.

It has evolved into three Diablo Foothill Athletic League titles in the last four years, with the only year they didn’t win it, 2009-2010, seeing the Dons edged out by only a point by a Dublin side that won the Division II title.

What will come of the Dons goals in this season?

An unblemished record? More titles? Redemption?

Don’t be surprised if it’s all of the above.

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