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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | HIGH SCHOOL BOYS'
SOCCER PREVIEW

El Camino Real's Success Won't Come as Surprise

November 22, 2000|CHRIS SHAFFER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For years they were called underdogs and some considered them lucky when they won their first City Section title two seasons ago.

Under Coach David Hussey, who is in his eighth season, the players for the El Camino Real boys' soccer team routinely have exceeded expectations. But those expectations have gotten greater.

The Conquistadores, admired for their upsets and crafty yet simple play, have finally earned the respect to become the No. 1 team in the region.

If they don't win the City title, they'll be seen as underachievers.

"On paper, we are probably one of the best teams in the area, but the kids must understand the game is played on the field," Hussey said. "The only team that's going to beat us is ourselves. The other team will have to want it more than we do."

Despite losing offensive leader Jason Lara and standout defenders Victor Choi and Jason Burbidge to injuries last season, the Conquistadores advanced to the City semifinals.

This season, the team is stronger, more experienced and determined to not only reach the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season but finish undefeated, something that hasn't been accomplished by a team in the region since La Canada did it in 1996.

"We are more mature, soccer-wise and personality-wise, and we are much faster and more skilled than last year," Hussey said. "Skill-wise I don't think there's anybody that can match us. This is going to be the best El Camino team ever.

"We could compete with the great Reseda teams of the past. They are used as the measuring stick of the best teams in the area."

Newcomers include two of last season's top Mission League players: former St. Francis goalkeeper Raul Calderon, a junior, and former Chaminade forward Ori Adrabi, a senior.

His team gets to prove it belongs among the elite. Hussey bolstered the schedule with the Iolani Classic, Hawaii's premier tournament; the Trabuco Hills tournament, arguably the toughest tournament in California; and the Royal tournament, featuring the region's top teams.

After having trouble focusing last season, senior forward Ede Ibekwe worked hard in the off-season. Hussey believes Ibekwe will be one of the strongest and fastest players in the City.

El Camino Real traditionally plays with four defenders, but with senior sweeper Zack Feldman and Calderon, the Conquistadores may switch to three forwards to take pressure off Lara.

A look at the other top teams in the region:

Ventura: The Cougars advanced to the playoffs last season for the first time since 1986. They lost in a Southern Section Division II quarterfinal when eventual co-champion Huntington Beach Edison scored on a free kick with 10 seconds remaining for a 1-0 victory. The defending Channel League champions remain strong despite returning only six starters.

National team member Mike Enfield, a senior, and senior Brian Anderson, a member of the state team, help form the best midfield in the region. The Cougars also return four of their top five scorers, including senior Ian Campbell. After spending his junior year as an exchange student in Germany, defender Todd Robinson, a member of the U.S. field hockey team, will start at sweeper.

Chaminade: The Eagles hope to build on a school-record 18 victories, but the team's success may rest on the shoulders of junior goalkeeper Jesse Taylor. Taylor, a tight end on the football team, hasn't played soccer since his freshman year, but the Eagles are hoping his size and athletic ability will pay off.

Mission League co-defensive most valuable player Bryan Borreson returns. Coach Mike Gwaltney believes junior Jackie Lawlor, a transfer from Irvine's St. Michaels School, will have no problem replacing Adrabi at center midfield. With Joe Dillon and Alec de Mattos returning at forward, the Eagles are loaded up front.

Crespi: The Celts have their most talented team since winning the Del Rey League title in 1983. They return 10 starters from an inexperienced team that was plagued by injuries. Senior forward Erick Balderrama must stay healthy and score goals for Crespi to win its first Mission League title.

Junior David Vega is a strong midfielder who can cause damage if he stays fit and sophomore goalkeeper Peter Bomar is the best in the league. After playing defense last season, sophomore Taylor Canel moves to the midfield.

La Canada: The Spartans are among the most skilled teams in the region, but there are questions about the team's physical strength. The defending Rio Hondo League champions are solid at every position but lack size. Senior midfielder Eric Irvine, an All-Southern Section pick, leads a team that returns 10 starters from a squad that went 16-2-3 and reached the Division IV quarterfinals. Coach Louie Bilowitz is confident senior forward Bassan Khan will help replace Britton Cobb, who scored 47% of the goals last season.

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