In case you are wondering why there are thunderous roars at Hazeltine Field months after the high school football season is over, they were for the new titanic sports program on the block: the El Segundo Boys Varsity Soccer Team.
The Eagles recently capped their 2018-19 season defeating West Torrance for the CIF Southern Regional Division III Championship. It was their second consecutive title, winning the Division IV Regional last season and, their third victory over their South Bay rivals West in as many tries.
Photo credit: Jamie Carole (Facebook)
I’ll bet you thought this was a baseball town. While ESHS boasts several excellent athletic programs for both boys and girls, soccer has historically been a punching bag for the top teams in the area. So why the recent success?
Point of Departure
It began in 2010 when current coach Andrew Kelley took the keys to the castle from his father Alan, who had coached since 1999. Even then, winning was not necessarily at a frequency you might call often. That all changed five years ago when the program began to see things take a turn for the better. One South Torrance Holiday Tournament title, three league titles, two CIF Sectional titles and two CIF Regional titles later, the program is possibly the most feared in the area.
Tweaking the System
Coach Kelley would take the courageous leap of faith early last season that brought about a new tactical formation that you see the team employ today. After a dismal 3-3-3 start to the season, he decided to move to a defensive “back three”, focusing on the strengths of the players he had at his disposal, rather than an answer to what our opponents were trying to do. Although it wasn’t often pretty, it was effective, and the boys went on the win the first Sectional and Regional championships in the program’s history. Usually coming from a goal or two down, the boys seemed to always find a way to win, and when it counted the most, and they never looked back.
Underdogs to Top Dogs
The recent success didn’t do the team any favors. They were moved up two divisions and began the season as the 13th ranked team in the United States, and subsequently, had the proverbial target on their backs. It was quite a different feeling going from playing as the underdog to the expectation that they should win, and convincingly.
The experience they gained from last year’s title gave them the confidence boost they needed to go out and take care of business every time they took the field. The two blips on their 25-1-1 record were a result of a 2-1 loss to Santa Barbara in the South Tournament, and a 1-1 draw to cross-city rivals Mira Costa, both Division I schools. They wrapped up this season as the number two ranked team in the state, and an improbable fourth in the nation.
A Special Lot
A house is only as good as its foundation, and the roots were planted in ‘99 when the senior Kelley (now head JV coach) took over the program. He instilled traditional soccer values he learned growing up as a professional in England and later in the US. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and Andrew has a similar philosophy to that of his father, with quite a bit of his own flair thrown in for good measure. However, a foundation is only a beginning.
What you create on top of it is another story altogether. To say that this current crop of athletes is a special group is a classic understatement.
According to the coaches, they knew that this senior class was a target to do something special.
Winning last year was almost a boon. It simply goes to show that the qualities they possess were realized at an even younger age than anticipated, and culminated in a historic run that saw them win 25 games for the first time in school history.
They completed a perfect 10-0 as they swept effortlessly through the league, and never looked like they were interested in losing to anybody in the playoffs. They amassed an unheard of goal differential of +54 (81 for, 27 against).
They didn’t squeak through games as much as glide through them with an elan that was so pleasing to the eyes that alumni began to show up out of the woodwork to catch the show.
Their cohesion and togetherness were evident in everything they did this year, including “training” sessions at Rinaldi’s where all would sit together as a family.
It’s not too implausible to say the collection of soccer athletes that graced the program in the last two years, and potentially next year too (let’s not forget, there are some excellent sophomores and juniors in the side), are some of the greatest the school will ever see.