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Dominguez Soccer Is Better Than Ever

October 11, 2000|ERIC STEPHENS

Garrett Estrin had several reasons to give up soccer and move on with his life. The redshirt senior graduated in May and had already completed an internship in the Dodgers' media relations department. He also got engaged over the summer.

Knowing that Cal State Dominguez Hills was set in goal with returning junior Luis Morales, Estrin thought about leaving the net and becoming a graduate assistant coach in the program.

"I wouldn't have come back if it weren't going to be like this," Estrin says with a smile but also with complete seriousness.

He can smile knowing his decision was the right one. Estrin and the Toros are savoring a soccer season developing into the greatest in the program's distinguished history.

With its 1-0 victory Sunday over Sonoma State, Dominguez Hills improved to 12-1-1 overall and 9-0-0 in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. The victory was important in that the match was between the No. 1 and No. 2 team in the NCAA Division II Far West rankings.

Not only did the win reinforce the Toros' status as the top team on the West Coast, but it also pushed them up to No. 3 in the national rankings, the highest they've ever reached.

It is the position that Joe Flanagan dreamed of as a player and desired as a coach. Flanagan is the Toros' all-time leading scorer and in six seasons as head coach has amassed a 60-39-7 record.

But Dominguez Hills had never scaled these heights until now. Of Flanagan's 11 years in the program, the Toros have never gone to the NCAA playoffs. The program's lone NCAA appearance came in 1982.

Flanagan also had to live up to the standards set by Marine Cano, his former coach who won 83 matches in nine seasons.

"It's been my goal to get this team to be recognized on the national level," Flanagan said in his office recently. "Obviously [Cano] set the foundation, but it was up to me to take this program further.

"I expected us to have a good year. But 12-1-1 is probably more than I imagined."

What Flanagan was used to was a group that was occasionally brilliant but also flawed, often able to upset top teams yet fall to weaker squads in the same week.

"We know what it's like to win, lose, win, lose," Estrin said. "We started 5-1 last year and then we lost five in a row."

Estrin has been a stabilizing force. He is 6-1-1 with a 0.53 goals-against average, while Morales is 7-0-0 with a 1.30.

Senior sweeper Tony de Vocht and sophomore defender Joe Cartlidge have led a defense that has given up an average of one goal a game. But it is the Toros' high-powered offense that defines them.

Junior forwards Alex Bengard and Juan Carlos Bolanos have each scored 11 goals to lead the CCAA. Overall, Dominguez Hills has 47.

"At the very beginning I knew we'd be good," said Bengard, who has converted all four of his penalty kicks. "With all the guys we had coming back, I couldn't see us not doing well."

Talent hasn't always produced results. The same cast won the CCAA postseason tournament, but a 10-8-1 overall record wasn't enough to be considered for an NCAA berth.

Estrin said a year of maturity has been the difference. For example, the Toros came back from a trip to Washington last week and trounced San Francisco State, 6-2, after having only one day to practice.

"If that was last year, we may have lost," he said.

The success has generated excitement around campus. Dominguez Hills drew its largest crowd of the season Sunday and Bolanos' goal sent everyone home happy.

Estrin and his teammates are regularly surfing the Internet for as much information as they can gather on themselves and their opponents.

Flanagan keeps everyone focused on the mission.

"We're No. 1 in the West, but we know that for any team that's 1-10, 5-5 or 10-1, we're their source of motivation," he said. "Everyone is going to want to knock us off."

Redlands named Jeff Martinez its new athletic director earlier this month. Martinez, formerly associate director, succeeded Carl Clapp, who resigned in the spring to take the same position at St. Mary's, a Division I school in the West Coast Conference.

UNIVERSITY DIVISION

Sean Kern made a dazzling return to the UCLA lineup Saturday as he scored four goals in leading the top-ranked Bruins to a 7-5 men's water polo victory over No. 3 USC at McDonald's Swim Stadium.

Kern, the NCAA player of the year as a junior, played for the U.S. in the Sydney Olympics. The two-meter player led the Bruins to the NCAA title last year.

Proof of the significant freshman impact on the USC women's volleyball team, April Ross had 25 kills and Katie Olsovsky had seven blocks in the Trojans' 15-11, 15-11, 8-15, 15-11 home win over UCLA Friday.

Pepperdine won the Husky Invitational men's golf tournament at Port Orchard, Wash., last week behind freshman Randy Creighton and junior Jason Allred. Creighton tied for third individually with a two-over-par 218 score over 54 holes on the Trophy Lake Golf Course. Allred carded a four-over 220 to finish in a tie for fifth.

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