Sports, at its very core, is about getting knocked down and getting back up again. But I might have a new standard for a resilient comeback thanks to a group of soccer players on the Westside.
If a Disney princess is the patron saint of underdogs, then Cabrillo boys’ soccer carries the banner for bounce-back performances.
Three days after losing their first CIF Southern Section Division 2 championship game to Arlington in heartbreaking fashion, the Jaguars bounced back to win the first CIF State Regional Soccer Championship game in school history, 4-0, over visiting Riverside Poly last Tuesday.
How did Cabrillo shake off the biggest disappointment of the season in time to dominate a quality opponent?
“It was all mental,” senior captain Jonny Riquer said. “We’ve been practicing hard all season, so when we got back it wasn’t anything new. We just put the balls out there and played hard.”
In order to get his team playing loose and unencumbered soccer — the same way they played throughout this historic season — Cabrillo coach Pat Noyes set up a simple game at practice. With both goals set up only about 25 yards apart, Noyes let his players play quick short-sided games with rotating teams. It’s fast, fun and freeing.
“They’re playing super loose now,” Noyes said. “Whatever happens, positive or negative, you just have to move on. It’s about being in the moment. There were a couple of guys who were still very upset (after the CIF-SS Final), so we had a great practice with a lot of shooting and scoring. Then we talked about winning a different ring. Division II in State would be just as cool as CIF.”
I’ve watched a few Long Beach soccer teams show up to the CIF State encore tournament with no emotion left after the long season, and of course they lost unceremoniously. With that in mind, I was very curious to see how Cabrillo would start against Riverside Poly.
Cabrillo left back Jesus Navarette gave me the answer in the opening minutes when he poked a loose ball up the near sideline in front of the Jaguars bench. The lanky senior charged the ball with reckless abandon to meet a Riverside Poly midfielder there simultaneously. Navarette was sent to the ground after contact, much to the delight of his teammates.
Navarette got up quickly with a sly smile on his face. The ball was awarded to Riverside Poly, but momentum was clearly wearing Cabrillo green, and it kept the kit on all week. The Jaguars rolled to an incredible 7-0 victory over San Fernando in the semifinals before beating Westview 6-2 on Saturday in the championship game.
“These games felt free,” Navarette said. “We lost the most important game of our lives (in CIF-SS final), so these games felt like nothing to us. We stayed calm and played like they were scrimmages, but we put in work. We’ve been better because we’ve played calm. That’s what we did, and look at the scoreboard. 6-2. It worked.”
Cabrillo defensive midfielder Alexis Torres, who was called for the deciding hand ball in the CIF-SS final, said he was nervous about playing CIF State games, but that his coach gave him the right words of encouragement.
“As Noyes told us, we just had to forget about that game because there’s a new tournament, so we just had to focus on the task at hand,” Torres said.
“Every game was no doubt our game from the start, and we wanted to show that,” Cabrillo forward Eduardo Mosqueda said. “We had two completely different mentalities. We didn’t finish the first tournament, but we started over fresh and came in with a new mentality to accomplish this.”
This group of young soccer players from Long Beach finished the story of the biggest disappointment of their athletic lives with a CIF State plaque that will dominate the trophy case on campus. So, the next time you see a team or athlete rise above a momentary defeat, make sure you call it a Cabrillo boys’ soccer story.