SAMOHI — Winning the Ocean League title is fine and good, as is being ranked No. 1 in the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section, but what has Santa Monica High School’s head boys’ soccer coach Serafin Rodriguez excited is the prospect of capturing another state title.
As the Vikings prepare to end the season against Hawthrone today at John Adams Middle School, it’s the big picture that Rodriguez has his eye on.
“It’s not about clinching league, what we’re focusing on is the playoffs,” Rodriguez said. “Hopefully we can get back into the state tournament.”
It was just three years ago that the Vikings were able to clinch the first state title in the sport in school history, a feat that Rodriguez thinks this team can accomplish again. But, before that lofty goal can become reality, he knows that his team would be wise to stay focused on the task at hand and end the season with a win over Hawthrone.
The coach’s forward thinking has certainly caught the attention of his players.
“That No. 1 ranking is what we’re striving for,” senior mid-fielder Trevor Kovacs said. “We know we have to win out to stay No. 1.”
Kovacs said that the No. 1 ranking comes along with an easier path to winning the regional crown before advancing to the elite state tournament. He said that he agrees with Rodriguez that this edition of Samohi soccer has the goods, but said that the team shouldn’t get ahead of itself as it pursues its goals.
“We have to play the same soccer we’ve been playing the whole year,” Kovacs said. “We just have to finish our opportunities in front of the goal.”
It is that brand of soccer that has propelled the Vikings to a 16-2-3 overall record, league title and No. 1 ranking. The Vikings actually clinched league last week, but it wasn’t until Monday that they learned that they earned the top spot in the division.
Rodriguez gives most of the credit for the team’s recent success to a roster that includes an incredible 16 seniors, many of which have been playing together since middle school.
That group of seniors has been led by Kovacs, Ian Spetgnar and Daniel Hulbert, a trio of players with a nose for the goal and a wealth of experience playing together. Kovacs believes that kind of chemistry makes the game fun to play.
“We’re all really close and good friends,” Kovacs said of the team. “The feeling is a lot better when we’re all close off the field.”
Aside from the camaraderie, the team’s secret to success has come in its style of play. Rodriguez said that he looks to his defenders to press the ball up field, creating opportunities to rattle the opposition by creating early leads.
“We attack from everywhere,” Rodriguez said. “We build up from the back and our defenders like to go on attack. The defenders come from no where.”
That style suits Kovacs who as a defensive mid-fielder often gets the chance to put the ball in the net. Kovacs enjoys those chances, which are not commonly associated with playing defense.
But, at times, its that aggressiveness that gets the Vikings in trouble. For instance, the team’s most recent win came against Morningside on Tuesday. Despite winning the contest 2-0, Rodriguez said the score could have easily been 8-0. The Vikings were, as usual, controlling the flow of the game, but he said they appeared to focus on scoring individually.
He said that style doesn’t usually translate into big goal totals, instead it makes it easy on defenses to regroup knowing that the attack isn’t using misdirection and movement to create scoring opportunities.
“It’s a mental thing, we have to build opportunity after opportunity,” Rodriguez said. “We have to talk to them about sharing the ball because that’s how you can put teams away early.”