As he prepared for his fifth season as the director of the Cabrillo High School marching band this fall, Garson Olivieri acknowledged that he had high expectations for his student musicians.
“I knew this group was going to be incredible,” he said during a break in Monday evening’s practice.
Still, not even he was expecting the success the band has enjoyed.
Cabrillo has taken three first-place finishes during the competitive season, leading to one of the most successful campaigns in school history.
The band, which is ranked second in the 1A division of the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association, or SCSBOA, will look to cap the season this weekend by making school history.
The Cabrillo band and color guard will travel to Warren High School in Downey for the SCSBOA championships on Saturday.
The Conqs, who are scheduled to perform at 3:40 p.m., will be competing against the top 12 schools in the division.
Although Cabrillo has never had a top-three finish in the championship event, this year’s group has its sights set high.
“I’m pleased they’ve exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds,” Olivieri said. “I don’t mean to sell them short, but I never thought we’d be competing for the gold medal this year. All the pieces just came together at once.”
This will be Cabrillo’s third trip to the SCSBOA championships in the last six years. The school placed seventh in the season before Olivieri’s arrival and finished 11th in 2013.
Natalia Ramirez, a senior clarinetist, said the band’s confidence continually grew over the course of the season.
“Our main goal, I think, at the beginning of the season was just to make it to championships, and then we just kept winning and winning and (the goals) just got higher and higher,” she said.
One of the highest points for the group this season wasn’t in a competition but rather at the “Big Game” — the Cabrillo football team’s regular-season finale against rival Lompoc High at Huyck Stadium.
That night, according to several of the band members, the squad’s energy was at an all-time high.
“Most of the time when we go to football games, the crowd’s not super excited,” drum major Sammantha Barnes said. “But that night, they were on their feet clapping before we were done. We did amazing, and everybody cared about what our marching band was doing.”
The band is hoping to carry that energy and mindset into Saturday’s championship competition.
“They have it within them,” Olivieri said. “What we need to do is be consistent with (that energy). If we bring that, it’s going to be an incredible show.
"How to harness that is, I guess, the art of learning to do this," he added. "You can rehearse notes and drill spots until you’re blue in the face, but this is that elusive feeling. … When it happens, it’s magical.”
Some band members attribute that energy to the overall closeness of the group.
Many of the musicians have been playing together since middle school, and several of the performers in this year’s senior class were members of the Vandenberg Middle School band under Olivieri before he transitioned to Cabrillo.
“We’re a lot closer than we were last year,” Barnes said. “Everybody is friends, including the eighth-graders.”
The 50-member band will perform its field show, titled "Pandora's Reopening," at the championship.
Kyle Schroeder, a second lieutenant in the Air Force, began working with the team this fall as a volunteer.
Schroeder, a Michigan native now stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, was a member of the Air Force Academy Cadet Drum and Bugle Corps.
After months of working with the Cabrillo students, Schroeder said he thinks the group has what it takes to bring home a title.
“This group of kids — something about how they’re working together is fantastic,” he said. “When they focus and lock together, it really is incredible. I don’t know if it’s just the rapport that all of them have between each other … but it’s something I’ve never seen before.”