On West College Avenue in the City of Arts and Flowers, the Lompoc Braves soccer teams know all roads to the Los Padres League title go through Santa Ynez.
It’s vice versa, though, for the Pirates. Both the boys and girls clubs are aware Lompoc is among the many soccer mountains to scale in order to reach the LPL pinnacle once again.
And all four teams will enter their respective games on Tuesday undefeated in league play – plus aiming to distance themselves from one another in the race for the soccer league title. The girls game at Huyck Stadium takes place at 5:30 p.m., while the LPL boys unbeaten battle between the Braves and Pirates takes place at SYHS at 5:30 p.m.
On the LHS girls soccer team’s end, head coach Jason Cochrane and his crew are well aware of what happened one year ago when the Braves and Pirates played for the LPL title: Santa Ynez players celebrating the league championship on the Huyck Stadium grass, which included a championship group selfie on a cell phone.
Even though Cochrane says his team tries not to think about the memories of that 4-1 defeat, he admits that loss helps inspire this year’s Brave team.
“It (the regular season finale loss) created a hunger – an inner drive to go back and finish the deal,” Cochrane said by phone Monday. “Over the years, if you want to win the LPL title outright, you’ve got to go through Santa Ynez. They will always be in the mix for the LPL title.”
Cochrane added that he has the utmost respect for the job Rob Cantrell has done with the Pirates’ girls soccer program – a model of consistency in the region with their 10 LPL titles since the 2005-06 season as proof.
Cantrell shares similar praise for what Cochrane has done with his girls soccer team – one that has emerged as a consistent player for both the playoffs and LPL title in Cochrane’s third season at the helm.
“I know what his expectations are,” Cantrell said by phone on Monday.
While Cantrell and Cochrane have been on opposite sidelines, they were together once before – as assistants on the Hancock College staff.
“I think Jason has a love for the game. He can be both player-friendly and intense at the same time,” Cantrell said. “But he’s doing what he can with what he has.”
While Lompoc shares the same league record with Santa Ynez at 4-0, Cantrell believes every team in the LPL is a challenge and gets his team to treat every game like a championship atmosphere.
“Lompoc has a tough field to play on. But we play every LPL opponent like the league title is on the line,” Cantrell said.
On the boys’ side, Santa Ynez head coach Rich Joyner has a young crop of players on the corner of East Highway 246 and Refugio Road, with seven seniors but 14 underclassmen that helps fill out the rest of the roster. Joyner said by phone that he doesn’t want to overwhelm his players with thinking about the big contest.
“We give them one challenge at a time,” Joyner said. “We knew LHS would be among the top teams in the LPL coming into the season. It’s a big game (on Tuesday), but I don’t want to set these guys up to fail.”
Joyner has the utmost respect for the job LHS head coach Marco Vargas has done with the Braves, as Vargas has turned LHS into another perennial playoff contender.
“I think we coach very similar. It makes for a good match,” Joyner said.
This year’s contest won’t require the Pirates to slow down Julian Araujo, who has since pursued a career with FC Barcelona. But Joyner said keying up on Araujo wasn’t the task last year.
“We played straight up (on everyone),” Joyner said. “And that’s how we’ll play tomorrow.”
As for Vargas, he believes his team has implemented a new identity in soccer cleats – one that is more cohesive, which has helped energize the fast 4-0 start in LPL play.
“Team chemistry has skyrocketed,” Vargas said. “You can almost say new year, new us. We have been playing really well on both sides of the field where everyone has been connecting.”