Better Late Than Never

The celebrating came early for this team. While Dos Pueblos went about its warm-ups, the other side of the soccer field featured a pre-game hugs-and-flowers ceremony that honored the five San Marcos seniors who were playing their final regular season home game. Opponents on different ends of the Channel League girls’ soccer standings seemed like opposites when it came to preparing for a match. “We started warming up early,” countered Royal senior defender Brenna Zimmerman. “So it was okay.”

This club has every reason to be in a festive mood. The easy 4-0 win over the Chargers on February 7 was a fitting send-off to the Royals’ seniors, all of whom are team captains. San Marcos (18-4-1 overall) enters Saturday’s CIF Southern Section Div. II first-round playoff the owners of a league co-championship. At a school with nearly 2,300 students in a city where athletes are active outdoors year ’round, San Marcos girls’ soccer had still never won a Channel League title of any kind prior to this season.

Zimmerman and senior forward Sara Monteabaro were part of the Royals’ junior varsity as freshmen in 2003. Midfielders Kelly White and Elizabeth Rao join forward Kelsey Weiss in rounding out the tribal elders. They’ve played on the same FC Santa Barbara club team since their junior high days but also have roots that date back much further, according to Monteabaro.

“We’ve all been playing together since we were little girls, back in kindergarten and first grade,” she said. “I’ve never accomplished anything as big as this (league championship) before. Every year it’s seemed like we’ve have the talent to do it, we just couldn’t pull through. I need a coach to really push me, and it took a coach to really put a fire in us and make us all work together.”

That particular coach is not officially the head man in charge. Former Santa Barbara City College and UCSB soccer standout Robert Drescher only joined the team in October as an assistant to first-year head coach Carlos Estrada, who had already been on the job for several months.

Estrada’s role is augmented by his presence on campus at San Marcos, where he serves as a world history teacher. But come gametime, it’s the energetic Drescher — a teammate of Santa Barbara High girls’ soccer coach Sean Edwards with the Gauchos — who performs the work normally associated with a head coach.

Drescher directed his team while walking the sidelines throughout the match, which was scoreless a minute before halftime. He was also the lone coach to address the team prior to it taking the field, using pep-talk rhetoric that shouldn’t be taken literally (“I hate everything about that school,” he said in passing).

“What I think I’ve done is put a winning attitude into this team,” said Drescher, who previously faced members of his current team as a club coach in Ventura. “Club coaches have really taught them skills, but I think the difference in their attitude since I came in is night-and-day.”

After losing to league co-champion Buena in mid-January, the Royals finished the regular season with five straight wins to go 6-1-1 in the Channel League. Royals athletic director Abe Jahadmy credited Estrada for his ability to keep the team organized, while comparing the coaching setup to that of any other team. “Carlos runs the program, and it’s Robert that does the technical stuff,” he said. “I want our programs to have as many good coaches as we can get.”

Zimmerman sees the benefits as well. “[Drescher] is the right coach to tell us what to. He tells us what we’re doing wrong so we can fix it,” she said. “Carlos is a good manager of the team. He’s really good at handling the little things.”

For the team, there is still plenty of time for other pursuits besides soccer. Monteabaro organizes team dinners, while junior forward Alison Woliver is a budding musical talent, a guitar player for a local acoustic-based, four-member band. Dos Pueblos water polo player Erin Sandford is an additional guitar player who provides the principal song-writing. With the help of Woliver’s digital recorder, the quartet has recorded a two-song demo. And now with a drummer, all the group needs is a name. “We’re not just putting together songs that rhyme,” Woliver said. “The songs are about time and enjoying life and getting as much out of it as you can.”

And for the Royals right now, that’s easy.

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