Hugo Rojas and Jose Robles say they didn’t have any friends at Cabrillo High three years ago as sophomores, but now the seniors are two center pieces of the best defense in the city.
“The guys on the soccer team were the first friends I made here,” Robles said. “Ever since then we’ve been bonding more and more with each other.”
The Cabrillo defense that limited its opponents to only 12 goals in 26 games this season will lead the way today as the Jaguars visit Riverside Poly for the first CIF Southern Section Division 2 semifinal in program history.
“I wasn’t sure we’d be very good at the beginning of the season,” Cabrillo coach Pay Noyes said of his defense. “But something clicked and I think it’s a combination of organization, hard work, fitness and a willingness to hit. I don’t think we’re dirty by any means, but we’ll try and win every single 50/50 ball.”
That hard-nosed attitude from goalkeeper Yancy Monterola, right back Josue Garcia, left back Jesus Navarrete and center backs Rojas and Robles has been the anchor for Cabrillo this season. After giving up five goals in the first three games, it was the addition of defensive midfielders Jonny Riquer and Alexis Torres that changed everything. According to team statistics, the Jaguars are allowing less than five shots per game.
“Torres and Riquer cut off so many balls, and they’re good in the air,” Noyes said. “If teams try to pass through us we’re incredibly organized as a group, if they try to go over, we’re good in the air, and Yancy is an excellent goalkeeper.”
When the regular season ended, Monterola gave his defense a nickname.
“He said we’re ‘The Wall’ and we just started laughing,” Rojas said. “That’s when he made the picture with all of our faces in the wall. It’s pretty funny.”
Rojas and Robles both said that the chemistry built off the field as friends has made the defense solid, but they both needed to get pushed into it by coach Noyes.
“I didn’t try out for the team as a freshman but Noyes saw me playing soccer in PE class,” Rojas said. “He asked my why I didn’t try out, I told him I was scared. He gave me a little pep talk. He said, ‘That’s bull shit. You should play.’ I was playing for the team by the next semester.”
Rojas has exclusively playing soccer in Long Beach when his uncles Joel and Jose brought him to MacArthur Park next to Mark Twain Library. He played for Tigritos from age 7-14 before starting high school, and came to the junior varsity team as a sophomore with only experience as a defender.
Robles also played strictly soccer growing up in Lynwood, and after not enjoying his club soccer experience as a youth player, he learned to play in adult games with his dad, Joel. After moving from goalkeeper to striker and then back to defense, Robles uses his wide range of experience to defend.
“I basically use my experience as an attacking player to play defense,” Robles said. “The way I defend is by reading the player and knowing what they’re going to do, and where they’re going to go.”
The two center backs have been playing together on the back line for the last three years, and they say that their connection is so strong that it’s nonverbal.
“We always have each others back,” Robles said. “Our chemistry is so good we don’t even have to communicate. We just know what we’re going to do. We’re stronger mentally, we stay calm and the rest falls into place.”
Although Rojas supports the professional club Cruz Azul, and Robles supports their rival Club America, the two friends have more in common than not. They both idolize Sergio Ramos, and they both credit their coaches for their personal growth over the last three years together.
“Noyes and (assistant coach David Rivas) always tell us that if we don’t have the mindset of a winner, we don’t have anything at all,” Rojas said. “And (junior varsity coach) Gustavo Ibanez is our mentor. He knows what it’s like to be in our shoes right now because he won the Moore League as a player here. We trust him a lot because he’s talking from experience.”