It was a golden goal, a match-winner in overtime, but it did not have a shooter’s name attached to it. The corner kick by Jorge Garcia-Torres of the Santa Barbara High Dons was deflected in the air, caromed off the leg of a Newport Harbor player, and wound up in the goal. Perhaps it was the collective will of the Dons that produced their 1-0 victory in the opening round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 soccer play-offs last Thursday. Chalk it up to “Nosotros.”
“It’s not the first Spanish word I learned, but it’s probably the first I learned to understand deeply,” Santa Barbara coach Todd Heil said. “‘Nosotros’ simply means ‘us’ or ‘we,’ but here it signifies a sense of family, of being together in a big way.”
“Nosotros” has been the battle cry on Santa Barbara’s pitch for 40 years. The Dons won their first CIF championship in 1974 and repeated in ’75 and ’76. Their coach was Lito Garcia, a former Dons football player. He forged discipline and teamwork into a collection of skilled players who had lobbied for the addition of soccer to the athletic program.
Garcia was in the stands at Peabody Stadium on Thursday, as was Rudy Ybarra, the star player on the ’74 team, who later coached the Dons to a fourth CIF title. Heil did not come from their family tree. He grew up in Orange County and played football, soccer, and baseball at Esperanza High. “I was an average kid,” he said, “but I really wanted to be a coach someday.” Heil was a UCSB student when Ybarra adopted him as an assistant coach, and in 1999, he became the curator of “Nosotros.”
Fifteen years later, Heil is truly one of the family. He coached Santa Barbara to two more CIF titles and a state regional championship. This season, he won his 300th game as head coach. The victory over Newport Harbor was his 315th. It sent the Dons into a second-round game at Santa Margarita earlier this week with the possibility of hosting a quarterfinal game on Thursday, February 27.
Heil, who teaches government, economics, and history, welcomes the pressure that comes with the high standards set by his predecessors. “It’s one of the good things about the soccer program,” he said. “It keeps me on my toes.”
He turned 40 in the past year and said, “I’m a lot calmer than I was in my twenties. I’ve grown to understand that the season has to be looked at in its entirety.” He doesn’t panic over early-season defeats. The win over Newport Harbor left the Dons with a 19-5-1 record — 8-1 in their last nine matches.
Dos Pueblos High (17-3-3), which was runner-up to Santa Barbara in the Channel League, also won its CIF opener, 2-1 over Chino Hills. The Chargers beat the Dons, 2-1, on January 30. Heil said that DP juniors Julio Rubio and Tim Heiduk are two of the best players his team has faced.
Santa Barbara has seniors in two key positions — nimble striker Pepe Barron, who has scored 19 goals, and center back Jumoke Hutton. The rest of the team is mostly underclassmen. “The chemistry of this team is outstanding,” Heil said. “With the amount of youth we have, I don’t think we’d be successful without their buying into what we do.”
Barron, who aspires to play professionally in Mexico, said the Dons got a wake-up call when Dos Pueblos broke up their late-season winning streak. “We realized we were not unbeatable,” he said. “We made some mistakes, but we haven’t conceded a goal since that game.”
Hutton is a central figure in the defense that recorded four straight shutouts. “I was born and raised in a soccer world,” said Hutton, a Santa Barbara native whose mother once played on the Dons’ girls’ soccer team. His father, Lenny Hutton, was a player in Jamaica. “I’m respectful of Jamaica’s athletic accomplishments,” said the younger Hutton. His dreadlocks fly as he races around the soccer pitch. He said he will continue his career at Concordia University in Oregon.
Although he is not a goal-scorer himself, Hutton said his favorite international soccer star is Didier Drogba, the powerful striker from the Ivory Coast, while the 5’6” Barron models himself after another smallish player, the dazzling Lionel Messi of Barcelona fame.
With 16 teams vying for the Division 1 title at the start of the week — including top-ranked, unbeaten Loyola — there is no assurance that Santa Barbara or Dos Pueblos, much less both of them, will reach the CIF final. But in 2010, it happened. The Dons and Chargers faced each other at UCSB’s Harder Stadium. Santa Barbara, the host school, printed up 7,000 tickets. They all were sold, and at least 1,000 more fans flooded through the gates. The Dons won, 3-0. Heil calls it “my most memorable coaching experience.”
WIPING THE BOARDS: Alan “Big Al” Williams has gone on a rebounding rampage for the UCSB basketball team. The 6’8” junior is at the top of NCAA Division 1 with an average of 12 boards a game. Williams also is eighth in scoring average (22.5). The Big West Conference had no choice but to present him with his record-tying fifth Player of the Week Award of the season. Williams and point guard Zalmico Harmon, who ranks second nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio, have been UCSB’s most consistent players. The production from the “B” brigade — Mitch Brewe, Kyle Boswell, Taran Brown, and Michael Bryson — will be key Thursday, February 27, when the Gauchos visit UC Irvine in a showdown for first place. Both teams are 9-3 in the Big West. There is one more chance to catch the Gauchos at home, next Thursday, March 5, when Hawaii comes into the Thunderdome.
ADVERSITY: It’s been a tough year for women’s basketball at UCSB. The undersized Gauchos have a fighting spirit, but what they are fighting for is to stay out of the Big West cellar, a plight that leaves a team out of the conference tournament. UC Riverside is currently below the Gauchos. Those two teams were playing for titles not long ago. It’s like the standings are turned upside down. … Westmont College coach Kirsten Moore led her team to the 2013 NAIA women’s championship while dealing with the worst sort of adversity: the death of her husband, Alex, seven weeks before the birth of their daughter, Alexis. Her story has become a national legend, and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association recently announced that Moore will receive the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award at the NCAA women’s Final Four on April 6 in Nashville, Tennessee.