There was crying in soccer and in basketball Saturday. The pain of defeat and the relief of victory produced surges of emotions in the Santa Barbara High School Dons and the UCSB Gauchos.
The two teams had something else in common besides tears, something that had a lot to do with the tears. It was the ideal expressed by the slogan of the Santa Barbara High soccer team: Nosotros. It means “We.” “We all played as one,” said Dons forward Christian Pardo. “Not just the 11 players on the field, but everybody—we won as one, and we lost as one.”
Until Saturday, the last day of their magnificent season, the Dons had not experienced defeat. They brought a record of 31 wins and one tie into the CIF State Regional Division II championship match at Warren High in Downey. But after scoring 117 goals during the season, they suffered an afternoon of frustration and lost to Corona del Mar, 1-0.
The Dons had moist eyes as their coach, Todd Heil, announced each of their names and they stepped forward to receive their second-place awards. Then Corona del Mar Coach George Larsen took the microphone, turned toward the Dons and said: “You guys are one hell of a team, by far the best we’ve played all year. You played more than good enough to win this game.”
Santa Barbara had mounted attack after attack, only to see shots fly high or wide, or into the hands of the goalkeeper; or to see passes skitter away from the forwards on the fast playing surface. Corona del Mar, meanwhile, scored early in the game when UCLA-bound Reed Williams flicked a long throw-in into the net.
“It was a dumb goal, and we worked so hard with no reward,” Pardo said. “But we have no excuses. My hat’s off to them. They won.”
“We all thought we were going to get a goal,” said Jesse Gonzalez, who scored 20 goals during the season, second on the team to Pardo’s 21. “It was a sad way to end it, but we can look positively on the season.”
Brian Joseff noted the name of Warren High’s Justice Stadium. “Cosmic justice was not with us today,” said Joseff, who must have run four miles up and down the pitch Saturday. “That’s the way soccer is. We won some games we could have lost. It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.”
Dos Pueblos High’s soccer team had a remarkable journey in the State Regionals after losing to the Dons in the CIF Southern Section final. The eighth-seeded Chargers pulled off two upsets to reach the Division I championship, where they lost to Paramount, 2-0.
A few miles away at the Anaheim Convention Center, the UCSB men’s basketball team erased seven years of frustration by securing the Big West Tournament championship with a 69-64 victory over Long Beach State.
James Powell, the Gauchos’ senior guard, wept openly in the interview room after the game. He is going to the Big Dance—the NCAA tournament—but he was thinking of his friends on past Gaucho teams who never made it. “Hopefully, they’re feeling good for me,” Powell said, suggesting that they would be with him in spirit when the Gauchos take the floor against Ohio State on Friday, March 19, in Milwaukee. That’s Nosotros, a powerful force behind almost every successful team.
“It’s bigger than us,” Coach Bob Williams said of the Gauchos’ accomplishment. “It’s about the team. The personal aspect of winning pales compared to doing it as a team.”
It will take a total team effort for UCSB to hang in there against Ohio State (6:35 p.m. Friday on CBS Channel 12 and Radio KIST 1490). The Gauchos (20-9) are a No. 15 seed in the Midwest Region against the No. 2 Buckeyes (27-7), the Big Ten champions.
The Gauchos must do three things—work really hard to disrupt Ohio State’s offensive efficiency (49.5 percent shooting accuracy) with their zone defense; take care of the ball (the 19 turnovers they had in the Big West final would be a death knell); and cash in on the great equalizer, the three-point shot, with Orlando Johnson, James Nunnally, and Powell.
The Buckeyes feature 6′7″ junior Evan Turner, a point guard in a forward’s body. He averages 20.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 5.9 assists a game. “He will be the best player I’ve ever seen that we’ve played against,” Williams said.
Turner is expected to be one of the top two picks in this year’s NBA draft—the other being Kentucky guard John Wall, a freshman whose college career will end just months after it started. Three years from now when he’s heading for the NBA playoffs, Wall may find it hard to remember his Kentucky teammates, much less shed a tear for them.