Roseland University Prep wants a piece of the action.
Following first the North Bay League, then the Sonoma County League, and then independent moves like the Sonoma Academy girls’ team, the RUP boys’ soccer team is riding the wave of its recent success and throwing their hat into the ring for winter soccer. They will compete in the North Bay League-Redwood Division in the upcoming season.
It’s a much deeper pool of competition, it presents a logistical challenge for the Knights’ facilities and it may mean a good deal more losses than the program has grown used to in recent years.
And coach Tino Fonzeca can’t wait.
“The move, it’s always been in the back of my mind,” he said. “It’s what I wanted to do when I first got here eight years ago.”
“The competition is better,” he said. “It will only make our program better.”
And the RUP program has been plenty good of late.
After finishing second in North Central II League in 2014 and again in 2015, the Knights won the league pennant in 2016. And last season, they ran the table in league play before making a head-turning run through the North Coast Section Div. 1 playoffs.
The Knights were the No. 4 seed and dispatched the No. 13 seed, the No. 5 seed, and the No. 1 seed before falling — in overtime — 2-1 to the No. 7 seed in the championship game.
And it still burns.
“I think about it every day,” Fonzeca said. “It’s tough. We were up. We were up 1-0 with 10 minutes to go. We let it get away. I felt like it would have been a perfect way to move to winter.”
Senior goalkeeper Alan Aquieta agreed.
“I think it’s motivation for us,” he said. “We really wanted it that year and this year it’s just going to motivate us even more to win.”
Still, Fonzeca knows full well that wins will be harder to come by in the winter. The Knights will no longer be playing St. Vincent or Tech, who they dispatched 6-0 and 7-0 last season. The schedule now includes the likes of much bigger schools like Piner, Maria Carrillo and Cardinal Newman.
But Fonzeca said the conversations prior to the move were based in reality with a little bit of aspiration sprinkled in.
“The thing that kept coming up is that if we jump over, we might be losing some soccer games,” he said.
And the guys at the end of the bench who used to get playing time when the game was out of reach? They might be playing a lot less in the winter.
But Fonzeca said this team and the trajectory of the program deserved a chance to test their mettle against a new set of teams.
And this season certainly is not about rebuilding. The Knights return many of the pieces that made them so potent last year, namely their two leading scorers, junior Brian Cruz and senior Jose Pineda. The Knights scored 71 goals in 21 games last season.
And the defense that allowed .80 goals per game with Arquieta in goal will look disappointingly familiar to foes. That defense posted an eye-popping 11 shutouts last fall.