Tennis

Desert Mirage blanks Rancho Mirage, remains unbeaten in De Anza

Jesus Gutierrez fights for the ball with the help of another team mate nearby. Desert Mirage outscores Rancho Mirage 3-0 during their matchup.

Jesus Gutierrez fights for the ball with the help of another team mate nearby. Desert Mirage outscores Rancho Mirage 3-0 during their matchup.

That hashtag last year was #ThisIsTheYear. Opponents and critics anticipated telling the Desert Mirage High School boys’ soccer team, no, it isn’t. But that never happened. The Rams went 26-0 en route to the first perfect season in Coachella Valley high school soccer.

The first year Peter Zamora coached at the school, he told his players that “humble, dedicated and meek” would be their mantra. But after the successes of last season, which included a California Interscholastic Federation title, and a regional championship, that would be a tough motto to carry into 2016-17.

Yet with eight of 11 starters now graduated, the phrase lives on. With two of them currently nursing injuries, the group was nearly unrecognizable Thursday in a 3-0 victory at Rancho Mirage.

It’s how Zamora wants it.

“It’s almost a completely different starting 11 than last year,” he said on the same field where the Rams won the CIF title a little less than a year ago. “It’s forced us to grow a little more organically. Were forced to try (new) things out. Some things do, some things don’t.”

Zamora has spent the early part of the season experimenting with things that will help propel his squad into another deep postseason run. It’s actually helped, he said, that the win streak, which reached 29 games, ended in a 1-0 loss to Redlands on Dec. 2.

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The Rams then lost again five days later to La Quinta, allowing six goals in a game that helped put a chip back on the shoulder of the players, and provide a wake-up call that nothing this year will be won on the shoulders of last year’s team.

“I don’t want to say it because I’m not sure if I truly believe it yet,” Zamora said, “but this year’s team can be better than last year’s team because it’s more of a team, the way we play.

“We had some superstars last year, and when we weren’t playing as well as we could, we could rely on them to put in a goal or (play) shutdown defense.

“This year’s team is doing a really good job of playing as a unit, and if they start really playing team soccer, who knows.”

Evidence of that came on Dec. 29, when the Rams defeated Division I powerhouse Santa Margarita, 1-0, in the Oceanside Classic tournament. They lost, 2-1, in the final to San Clemente before defeating Twentynine Palms, 7-0, prior to Thursday’s game against the Rattlers.

In Thursday’s game, it was over almost as soon as it started. Enduring light rain, the Rams found the back of the net within the first couple of minutes, then added a second goal in the 17th minute. The third goal came late in the second half.

“We were excited just to come because we have that great nostalgia about this place from last year,” Zamora said.

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With a few early season losses, the pressure is off and team chemistry is even better than it was a year ago, Zamora said. Instead of stressing about a game earlier this year, the Rams (12-4, 2-0 De Anza) went to the beach together on an off day. They opened the season with a cookout.

“This team is a lot more relaxed, and just enjoying each other because there are a lot of friends on this team. They’re enjoying each other and they’re loving it.

“Now, not everybody is looking at us because of the streak. The pressure is off, and we’re having fun. It really has felt that way.”

The squad was riding high with the Santa Margarita win, but then they lost 2-1 to San Clemente.

Zamora, who was proud of his team but knew they could use the loss as motivation, asked if they wanted to be known as a second-place team.

The hashtag is no longer the same, but the hopes of the program haven’t wavered.

“As long as they play that way, I think we can make a pretty good run,” he said. “But we have some holes, and I know they’re there.

“There’s still a lot of good work to be done.”

Desert Mirage outscored Rancho Mirage 3-0 during their matchup.

Desert Mirage outscored Rancho Mirage 3-0 during their matchup.

Erick Serrano passes the ball to a teammate nearby. Desert Mirage outscored Rancho Mirage 3-0 during their matchup.

Erick Serrano passes the ball to a teammate nearby. Desert Mirage outscored Rancho Mirage 3-0 during their matchup.

Angel Serrano runs past the defender. Desert Mirage outscored Rancho Mirage 3-0 during their matchup.

Angel Serrano runs past the defender. Desert Mirage outscored Rancho Mirage 3-0 during their matchup.