SOCCER: Let good times roll at Gavilan

Gavilan's Adolfo Rodriguez works the ball to the net during a drill at practice Wednesday.

Gavilan College men’s soccer head coach Justin Johnson halted the 11 vs. 11 end-of-practice scrimmage mid play to robustly reiterate to the players a few points of order.
His message was received, put into motion and play resumed.
Later, after exhausting conditioning drills concluded the day’s mandatory stint on the pitch, about a dozen or so players stuck around to work on their finishing shots from about 25-yards away from the net.
The extra-curricular activity, so to speak, is just one sign indicating that what was established last season has carried over. And if the 2011 season was an indication of the direction the Rams’ soccer program is headed, this fall has the potential to be through the roof.
“We are looking up,” Johnson said concisely.
In year two under Johnson, the Rams are positioned to continue the reshaping of their program. Johnson is set on reinforcing what worked, restructuring what didn’t and reassigning the responsibility on his players to uphold a reoccurring theme of team unity.
“These guys are only here two or three years tops, but I plan to be here for a while,” Johnson said. “So it’s important that we continue to build on a foundation of values.”
Gavilan has all the makings of a rejuvenated institution after climbing out of the depths of obscurity in the Coast Conference last season, recording a program-best 11 wins and a 7-7 conference mark. Those numbers are a drastic improvement compared to the previous four seasons where the Rams averaged three victories. Playoffs weren’t just part of a far-off fantasy, either, as the Rams’ hopes to reach the postseason stayed relevant until the final week of the season.
As Game 1 of 2012 approaches, the lid to what is possible is nowhere to be found.
“We want to continue to change the atmosphere,” Johnson said. “They understand what they are representing and how special this situation is.”
The amount of players on field is different too. Forty-three players showed up for summer workouts – some recruited and some simply invited to tryout. Twenty-three of those made the roster. Five others agreed to redshirt the season. From a lineup loaded with freshmen last year, 11 are back for their sophomore seasons.
“We had good quality players here already,” Johnson said. “The thing I really wanted to address was getting local players. There are a lot of players around the area. I wanted to exhaust those options first.”
Two of those new editions who Johnson sees making immediate impact are Alejandro Gaeta out of Gilroy High and Luis Galvan, who played at GHS before moving to the club team scene last season. A redshirt in 2011, midfielder Andy Moya is projected to be a playmaker, while sophomore defender Josh Gonzalez received the endorsement of his coach.
Three Rams who generated a buzz last year and were rewarded with conference honors are also back in the fold. Goalie Eric Saavedra, a first-team all-conference honoree, took on an intensified offseason regimen that has him poised for another solid year in net.
Saavedra, who had a goals against average below two last season, will anchor a back line that Johnson figures will be the team lynchpin.
“We definitely want defense to be a main staple this year,” Johnson said.
Anthony Velasquez and Kristian Urias, both reigning second-team selections enter their sophomore campaigns. Velasquez led the team with 11 goals in 2011 and will again be pinpointed to produce. Urias is a mainstay in the midfield.
Though individuals may make the standout plays, Johnson knows that it will be the team’s collective effort that will manufacture wins this season. And that ideal is what Johnson is ingraining into the players above all else.
“We’ve made a few different goals,” Johnson said. “We want to protect our home field. We want to be in a situation where everybody is carrying their own weight, and not just their own weight, but also half of somebody else’s and really play as a unit. Lastly, we want to have an attitude where we refuse to lose, where we have a mentally tough attitude, believing in each other and respecting each other.”
The Rams open the non-conference slate at home against College of the Sequoias at 4 p.m. on Tuesday. Conference play begins Sept. 21 versus Cabrillo College.

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