For the first time in years, there is excitement surrounding the Calaveras High School boys’ soccer team. In the winter of 2017, Calaveras reached the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. Now, with key returners along with fresh faces, Calaveras hopes to once again reach the postseason.
Calaveras finished the 2017 season with an overall record of 8-10-1, but went 6-5-1 in the Mother Lode League. The third-place finish gave Calaveras a spot in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs as the No. 8 seed. Unfortunately, Calaveras was defeated by West Campus, the eventual section champion.
Being the first Calaveras team to reach the postseason in such a long time is something that head coach Rob Leetham hopes will be a driving factor for the 2018 season.
“They boys’ program hadn’t been to the playoffs in many years,” Leetham said. “So, to get a little taste of that and feel the excitement, that will definitely help them this year if we are able to get back there. It’d be nice to get a win or two in the playoffs this year.”
If reaching the playoffs a year ago wasn’t enough, Calaveras enjoyed a strong fall season, when it captured first place. Calaveras was a member of a league that consisted of teams from Sacramento, Elk Grove, Shingle Springs, Chico and Ebbetts Pass. Calaveras finished with a record of 8-1-1.
“It definitely gives us all confidence,” Leetham said. “But we tell them every day how hard they’ll have to work for it. It’s not just going to come with the snap of their fingers. But more than anything, we were just happy to be in the fall league and playing competitive games. We went into it not knowing how we were going to match up. Quite honestly, we didn’t really care; we just wanted the boys to play competitive games.”
Another reason why Calaveras should feel good heading into the 2018 season is that it has Kyle Alfred, who was the 2017 Mother Lode League Most Outstanding Offensive Player, and he returns for his senior year.
In his junior season, Alfred scored 15 goals, had four assists and 31 steals. His top performances came in a four-goal night against Argonaut and a two-goal night against Sonora and another against Argonaut. Alfred surprised people during his junior season, but that won’t be the case this year. It will be up to Alfred whether or not he’ll be able to live up to the expectations he set during his outstanding junior season.
“It will be a little bit of a challenge for him, just because the rest of the league now knows who he is,” Leetham said. “Last year as a junior, it was his first year on the varsity level. Now that everybody knows who he is, there will be more pressure and more challenges upon him. If there is anyone who can handle it, it’s Kyle. He eats, breathes and lives soccer. He works hard and has got great talent. We are not worried about Kyle.”
Alfred leads by example and is a good representation of what a soccer player should be, and his younger teammates take notice. As a freshman in 2017, Andrew Celli scored four goals, had three assists and 32 steals. And it was the support from Alfred that made him comfortable playing at the varsity level.
“Kyle is a very good teammate and he’s very supportive,” Celli said. “He does his best to help everyone out.”
While Alfred is a player that the majority of the MLL knows about, Calaveras has some faces that have yet to reach that level of notoriety, but they’re close. Sophomore center midfielder Bennie Hesser is one of the young players that Leetham is excited about, and Hesser is ready to prove that he belongs on the varsity squad.
“It’s an honor to play for the varsity and I’m looking forward to building up my skills at a higher level and hopefully excel more than I would at the JV level,” Hesser said.
Leetham added, “He was fantastic during the fall, especially playing the center midfielder position. We are really excited about Bennie and the potential that he has.”
To be a prolific soccer player, one must have the stamina to run up and down the field without stopping. Knowing that, Hesser got a head start. During his freshman year, he joined the cross country team in order to build up his endurance for the soccer season. The results were obvious, so Hesser hit the trails again in his sophomore year and his hard work paid off. He finished seventh at the CIF Sac-Joaquin Subsection meet in the 2.2-mile JV race with a personal record time of 12:17.4.
“Last year I ran cross country and it really helped me during soccer season and that’s one of the main reasons why I ran again this year,” said Hesser. “It helps so much because I can run all game long.”
Calaveras has a tough preseason schedule, with two games with division V section champion runner-up Escalon. Calaveras also has preseason games with El Dorado, Lodi, Chavez and Placer.
The Mother Lode League schedule begins on Jan. 4, with Calaveras hosting the defending league champion Linden Lions. Getting Linden right out of the gate is a great way for Calaveras to make a statement early in the year.
“I’m looking forward to playing Linden because they are the ‘best team out there’ and I like playing the best,” said Celli.
Coaches throughout time start every season by saying they want to finish as league champions. Leetham is no different, but this year, that could be a strong possibility, not just fun words to say.
“We have a young team, but we are talented,” Leetham said. “We know the favorite every year seems to be Linden and it’s not going to be easy to get past them. But we are excited for the opportunity to compete against them and the rest of the Mother Lode League this year.”
Contact Guy Dossi at 498-2053 and follow him on Twitter at @GuyDossi