Shadow Hills High School may have had the best soccer program in the Coachella Valley a year ago. Desert Mirage High became the first unbeaten team in the valley’s lengthy history, with a perfect 26-0 record, but it’s quite possible no school matched the collective success of both the boys’ and girls’ teams at Shadow Hills.
It was the girls’ squad at Shadow Hills that forged a 14-game win streak en route to the California Interscholastic Federation quarterfinals in Division 7 — a run that included eight shutout victories.
And it was the Shadow Hills boys who played in a whopping eight postseason games, reaching the CIF final in Division 6, in addition to the CIF regional final, losing only to that historical group from Desert Mirage.
It was a milestone season, the best in school history for both Shadow Hills teams.
But both squads this year are grappling with the cyclical nature of high school sports, both due to the departure of graduating seniors and the expectations that come with raising the bar within a high school athletic program.
The Shadow Hills girls, now 4-6-1 after a 10-0 blowout victory over Indio Wednesday night, have already lost more games than the previous two seasons combined, when they lost just six of 47 games. The win was the Knights’ first victory in the Desert Valley League, a program milestone after moving from the De Anza League this season.
The boys’ team, 19-8-2 a year ago, is still searching for its first victory after losing to Indio at home on Wednesday.
“Losing eight starters and three really special players will do that,” said Derek Orkney, who began coaching the boys’ team midway through the 2013-14 season.
Orkney isn’t kidding. His squad lost seniors Hugo Herrera (24 goals, 11 assists), Jose Hernandez (11 goals) and Daniel Vasquez (13 goals), not to mention the majority of the back line of his defense to graduation. He’s replaced them with talented young players, he says, but none of them have yet emerged as a player who can carry the Knights in clutch situations.
Four of their losses have been by a single goal.
“We have a lot of talent,” Orkney said, “but we haven’t been able to come up with goals when we need it, like we did last year.”
The girls’ squad, on the other hand, carried over a lot of talent from a year ago, including former De Anza League Offensive Player of the Year, Luz Quezada, and star sophomore Mason Stansbury, an all-league pick a year ago as a freshman. The problem, as assistant coach Jorge Gutierrez put it, was dealing with the expectations, and allowing last year’s success to affect the team mentally.
“It wasn’t injuries and it wasn’t even the seniors we lost,” he said. “We needed to be humbled. We sort of needed that wake up call.”
Head coach Wilmer Cabezas and his girls’ squad won their season opener, 3-0, over a Coachella Valley High team picked by many to finish atop the De Anza League. But the Knights won just two of their next nine games, six of which were losses.
On Dec. 29, after a 4-2 loss to Laguna Beach, coaches challenged players to return from a short break ready to start anew, with a fresh outlook and removed from the pressure to match last season’s record.
“Indio just happened to get in the way tonight,” Gutierrez said. “I saw the fire back in their eyes that was missing the first part of the season.”
Orkney’s squad appears to be in a full-blown rebuild with just a handful of senior starters and several sophomore’s – and even freshmen – playing key roles this season. Yet even Orkney’s squad is still in the hunt for the postseason, and with the DVL as wide open as it appears to be halfway through the season, the playoffs are not entirely out of the question.
How the Knights fare in their first year in the DVL will ultimately determine whether Shadow Hills will have the opportunity to make another playoff run.
Both Orkney and Gutierrez say they are not focusing on what they lost from last season. Instead, the key is to take the disappointment and lessons from the first half of the year and put them to work into the latter half of the regular season.
They’re lessons neither team had to learn last year, yet could provide wisdom for a pair of young squads with admittedly high expectations.
“We lost some games already we definitely should have won,” Gutierrez said. “Now let’s just learn from our mistakes and take back our season.”