A plan was set in place this season for St. Francis High senior Eilias Garcia and his fellow teammates on the boys’ soccer team.
Since the start of the winter season, they’ve been learning step by step how to execute that plan, and slowly enough they are near completion.
The Sharks are just one point away from earning the program’s first ever league championship.
“I’d be milking it for the rest of my life,” said Garcia about the possibility of capturing a Pacific Coast Athletic League Santa Lucia Division title and making history all at the same time.
St. Francis improved to 9-0-1 (28 points) following Monday’s 4-1 win against Anzar in league play with two games remaining in the regular season.
Garcia notched a pair of goals in a 6-0 win over Oakwood on Jan. 30, including the game’s opening score in the 12th minute. It was the seventh shutout recorded by the Sharks this season.
“The coach plays more of a possession style where he wants us to pass the ball around and find the wings to go in for a cross,” Garcia said. “I guess last year we just weren’t in the right mentality, but this year I’ve been trying to get [teammates] to really change it.”
So far, that plan has been working fairly well for Garcia, who has a team-best 13 goals to go along with a pair of assists.
St. Francis head coach Valentin Barrelleza saw a boost in participation, which was a relief after having just enough players—12 to be exact—to compete in a match in the 2022-23 season. They finished with a 3-13 overall record and went 2-10 in league play.
This year there are 22 players on the roster and the turnaround is remarkable.
“Having the numbers this year definitely makes a difference,” Barrelleza said. “It’s pretty hard. Some of the players are not year-round soccer players, but we definitely have some strong athletes. When you have strong athletes like that, all you gotta do is come up with a system that works for them where they feel comfortable.”
Barrelleza was amazed to see a larger turnout, especially when four players showed up to tryouts. At the time, some were transitioning from the football season and others were still undecided.
“Little by little they started showing up and I was definitely surprised by the numbers,” he said. “I’m stoked and I’m happy that we got them.”
A key returner from last year’s group is sophomore forward Liam Rawson, who has 11 goals and five assists this season.
“[It’s] going one step at a time, we’re trying to not let it get into our heads. We’re just keeping a winning mindset, so we’re doing good,” Rawson said.
Rawson credits Barrelleza for driving them forward, making sure they’re staying on top of things such as attending practices and wanting to improve on the pitch.
“It’s definitely going up, we’re definitely getting support from the school and we’re getting ourselves out there and getting some players out,” Rawson said.
Other returners include seniors Thiago Caetano and Aaron Rocha-Diaz; and sophomores Abram Gonzalez, Aiden Tran and London Wood.
Garcia said they worked on improving off the mistakes made last year, and overall wanted to get recognition from other teams in the league.
The Sharks had time in the preseason to prepare and Garcia saw commitment from his teammates. He was impressed how quick the newcomers were able to adapt.
“And the fact that coach [Barrelleza] was able to solely teach us in those baby steps,” Garcia said.
The group of newcomers includes seniors Micah Cervantez and Andrew Garibay—with 20 saves as the Sharks’ starting goalkeeper—and a pass machine in freshman Aidan Barrelleza-Hernandez with seven assists.
Barrelleza can see the players have bought into the system, which isn’t a secret by any means. The Sharks’ second-year coach is going back to the basics by teaching fundamentals of the game.
“And if everybody understands at least those basics, when we’re out there and working as a team, then everything starts coming together,” Barrelleza said.
Everything seems to be coming together for the Sharks, who are on the verge of hanging their first league banner somewhere in the gymnasium.
First, they need to take care of business at Pacific Grove High (5-6-1, 4-5) on Friday at 5pm, followed by a home game at Anzar (7-11, 6-3) for Senior Day on Feb. 12 at 3:30pm.
“I tell the players you gotta keep it here,” said Barrelleza as he lifted his hand just slightly below his head. “Don’t let that go into your head too much because it can be dangerous. As long as you keep it here and you always put in the work, things will fall in place…we gotta show respect in a sense, but we’ve got to come out and do what we gotta do to stay in the driver’s seat.”