Conquistadores bounce back from forfeits
El Camino Real's (Woodlands, Calif.) greatest victory can be attributed to one of the program's darkest moments.
The Conquistadores' boys' soccer team capped a roller-coaster ride of a season by winning the Southern California Regional championship with a 2-0 victory over Bullard (Fresno, Calif.) on Saturday. The title run, which included wins over three straight ESPN RISE FAB 50 programs, redeemed the El Camino Real side that had to forfeit five matches early in the season.
"We were rolling along pretty well," El Camino Real coach David Hussey said of the pre-forfeit Conquistadores. "We had just beat Chatsworth (Calif.) 5-1. The next day, we found out we had to forfeit five matches. I told the guys at practice, and their faces dropped. At that point, they knew we had to focus more and play even harder."
The Conquistadores responded with a 17-match undefeated streak to end the season, which included winning the CIF-Los Angeles large-school title and the SCR to become the L.A. section's first SCR champion. The SCR is a three-division, eight-team event for the top finishers from the state's Central, Los Angeles, San Diego and Southern section championships.
The nature of El Camino Real's violation was rather accidental. An El Camino Real player competed in a six-on-six indoor league during the high school season, and doing so is a violation of in-season out-of-school participation rules, Hussey said. The team would not have been sanctioned if the athlete had played in a five-on-five league, according to Hussey.
"Since it was indoor soccer, he didn't think it was a soccer game [in contrast to the outdoor version]," Hussey said. "It was a misunderstanding on his part.
"It was a crazy season, but I think the craziness helped us focus."
After the forfeits and losing a starting player in the process, Hussey shuffled the lineup, which he said made the team stronger. He said the key move was shifting senior Tony Turcios to sweeper to shore up the defense. "We didn't lose a game after that," Hussey said.
El Camino Real already was strong on defense with Region IV keeper Keon Parsa, a junior who is considering attending Stanford and several Ivy League schools. Parsa had 13 shutouts. Freshman Ericson Penate was the team's leading scorer with 20 goals, followed by junior Jose Velasquez's 13 goals. Senior Edgar Ramirez was the central midfielder who, according to Hussey, "made everything happen." Ramirez had a team-best 14 assists.
El Camino Real clinched a position in the SCR by claiming its fourth CIF-L.A. Section title in the past decade with a 1-0 victory over Locke Charter (Los Angeles). The Conquistadores received the No. 5 seed in the Division I tournament. Their first SCR match was at Millikan (Long Beach, Calif.), which went undefeated at home this season and was ranked No. 20 in the FAB 50.
"They were coming off a loss [in the Southern Section final], we were coming off a section title," Hussey said. "They were at home. I know they had something to prove. They wanted another chance at El Toro [of Lake Forest, Calif., which would have been the potential SCR semifinal matchup]. They scored in the first four minutes, and I said, 'Uh-oh.'"
Hussey's concern did not last long. Penate scored the equalizer in the ninth minute and added the winner in the overtime of a 2-1 victory.
In both the semifinal (against ESPN RISE FAB 50 No. 2 El Toro) and the final, El Camino Real struck early -- scoring in the second minute against El Toro en route to a 2-0 victory and in the first minute against Bullard. Junior Sebastian Rodriguez scored both early goals, and Ramirez notched assists on both tallies.
When the whistle sounded to end the title match, El Camino Real had posted a shutout streak of 251 minutes against three of the winter season's top teams, two from the highly regarded Southern Section.
"It's a huge accomplishment for us," Hussey said. "Especially for an L.A. city school. We're surrounded by the Southern Section, and all we ever hear about is the Southern Section teams."
Although the SCR is not a true state championship because it only involves four of the state's winter-season-playing soccer sections, it represents the most significant team championship for the school since the girls' basketball squad won the 1979 state title.
Hussey has guided El Camino Real to the L.A. City Section semifinals in eight of the past 12 seasons, and the team has reached the final six times and has won four titles.
Following each section championship, Hussey adds a star to the logo on the team's jersey. He's not sure how to handle the program's greatest victory: the SRC title. "Maybe we'll have a larger SCR star in the middle surrounded by the four section stars. I don't know," he said. "We're just starting to think about that."
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