Cabrillo hopes experience, depth, and preseason schedule pay dividends | Men’s soccer

APTOS — They may not count in the standings, but those nonconference matches on the Cabrillo College men’s soccer schedule do matter.

Not just as tune-ups for Coast Conference play, mind you – though nonconference matches do serve that purpose, preparing teams for the higher-stakes matches that take place in the latter part of their schedule. They can also make or break a team’s playoff hopes come season’s end.

The Seahawks found that out the hard way last year: Though Cabrillo went 12-5-1 and finished the regular season ranked 15th among Northern California teams in the California Community College Athletic Association, a lower-ranked team with more power points from quality wins or ties against stronger teams ultimately bumped the Seahawks out of the postseason.

“Going into the season, you never know who’s going to be the strongest from No. 4 through No. 16,” Cabrillo coach Paolo Carbone said. “Everybody’s so tight that when it comes down to the playoffs, one tie or one loss makes a big difference at the end of the year.”

  • Cabrillo College defender Andres Rebollar battles for possession as teammate Mohamed El Kaddouri looks on Tuesday in a nonconference soccer match against Allan Hancock. (Lucjan Szewczyk – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

  • Cabrillo College soccer player Piedro Bizzoni, center, sees a Seahawks’ run foiled by Allan Hancock’s goalie Tuesday in Aptos. (Lucjan Szewczyk – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

  • Cabrillo College soccer player Oscar Herrera fights for possession in second half action against Allan Hancock on Tuesday. (Lucjan Szewczyk – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

  • Cabrillo College soccer player Pietro Bizzoni celebrates scoring in the second half against Allan Hancock on Tuesday. (Lucjan Szewczyk – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

  • Cabrillo College soccer player Jorge Molina gets fouled by Allan Hancock in the penalty box in the second half on Tuesday. (Lucjan Szewczyk – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

  • Gavin Keith playing defense for host Cabrillo College in a soccer game against visiting Allan Hancock on Tuesday. (Lucjan Szewczyk – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Stacking the schedule with matches against perennial powerhouses doesn’t necessarily help, either, Carbone said: Such schools can have down years while programs that are typically mediocre at best can have atypically stellar seasons.

To avoid being at the mercy of other teams’ successes or failures come season’s end, Carbone is focusing on the one thing his team can control between now and Cabrillo’s Sept. 27 Coast Conference opener against City College of San Francisco: winning matches.

“When players come to Cabrillo, they know we’re a strong soccer program,” the coach said. “There’s some pressure – they know they have to focus on the task of winning those games. They understand that every game counts for playoff purposes.”

Cabrillo has nine sophomores returning from last year’s squad. Chief among those is goalkeeper Sean Cameron. The Scotts Valley High graduate leads a deep group of netminders that also includes freshmen Edgar Angel (Watsonville) and Christopher Jamrok (Hollister). Adding to the Seahawks’ glut at the position are Ulises Hernandez (Aptos) – the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League’s Most Valuable Player for the 2021-22 school year; Yeferson Hernandez (Harbor), the SCCAL’s Goalie of the Year; and Jesu Ramos (Soquel), an All-SCCAL first-team selection.

“Sean’s got more experience than the other guys,” Carbone said. “He’s older, he’s very vocal and he’s very good at communicating with the defense.

“The other guys, in my eyes, are just as talented as him. He’s just had more games at this level.”

Also back for the Seahawks are forward Erik Vazquez, center back Adrian Madueno Nieblas and midfielder Julian Garcia – all of whom played locally for Central Coast Section powerhouse Watsonville. In fact, Cabrillo’s roster features eight former Wildcatz, including midfielder Sebastian Abonce, defender David Ibarra, and forwards Oscar Herrera and Andres Rebollar – all of whom are freshmen.

“Vazquez should be a threat (on offense) throughout the game,” Carbone said. “Herrera should be dangerous as well.”

Cabrillo boasts two returning players from France in forward Mohamed El Kaddouri and left back Batiste Brie. Rounding out the Seahawks’ group of sophomores are midfielders Nico Larter (Santa Cruz High) and Sebastian Lopez (Pescadero) and defender Sage M. Salles-Cunha (Aptos).

Carbone believes his team’s depth is its biggest strength.

“We’ve got heavy internal competition within our group,” he said. “Our players push each other to get better. No one has a guaranteed starting spot.”

The coach would like to see his team become more tactically disciplined and make smoother transitions from defense to offense. That will come as Cabrillo’s players start working better together as a unit.

Carbone couldn’t handicap the Coast Conference title race. However, he does believe the Seahawks have the potential to finish very high – especially if they can make winning a habit during the nonconference portion of their schedule.

“There are a couple of schools we play that are very easy to beat, but other than those two schools, among the other nine or ten schools we play, it’s anyone’s game,” Carbone said.

“I know we have the talent to do very well,” he added. “I can’t say we’ll finish first, but we want to finish as high as we can.”

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