Thirty athletes turned out for boys soccer at Columbia High this spring — an indication that interest in the program is as strong as ever.
Of those 30, nine are re-turning varsity letter-winners. Three others also saw varsity minutes in 2013, while swinging between the varsity and junior varsity.
Bruins Coach Christopher Cramer, now in his third season, said CHS’s approach on the pitch this season will be the same as it always is: “We want to keep the ball and dominate the game offensively.”
“Everything revolves a-round the ball,” he continued. “We want to possess it, we want to win it back quickly when we lose it, and we want to keep it in the opponents’ half. We believe we have a group of players that can do that.”
Though he has not yet set a lineup for Columbia’s season and Trico League opener on Monday in Bruins Stadium against Castle Rock, Cramer said he expects senior midfielder Gabriel Guzman, junior forward Luis Pascual, junior defenders Isidro Ramirez and Rodrigo Cortes, and sophomore forward Ivan Cortes to be the team’s im-pact players in 2014.
Guzman scored 11 goals and passed for 10 assists last season while garnering All-Trico First Team recognition. Pascual led the Bruins in scoring for the second year in a row, tallying a career-high 19 goals in 2013 to go with seven assists. He, too, earned All-Trico First Team honors.
“Gabe went from being a contributing varsity freshman to a key player his sophomore and junior years,” Cramer noted. “We know he is good for at least 10 goals per season, and each year his assist tally increases as well. We rely on him as a big-game player and a team captain.”
Cramer also is high on Ivan Cortes, who netted four goals and had eight assists in his rookie season, which culminated in his selection as a member of the All-Trico Second Team. “Ivan started as a freshman last year on the left wing and terrorized almost every defense in the league,” Cramer said. “This year he is bigger and more experienced. He will be an important player for us.”
Ramirez is the only returning starter in CHS’s defense, which suffered significant losses in talent and leadership through graduation.
Cramer is counting on Ramirez and Rodrigo Cortes, a converted forward, to lead the effort to rebuild the CHS defense. Cortes received All-Trico honorable mention last season, during which he scored three goals and made two assists.
“Isidro’s leadership and experience will be crucial in rebuilding our defense,” Cramer said. “Rodrigo has been an important guy off the bench the past two seasons. In his new role, he is my early pick for breakout player of the year.”
From a team standpoint, Cramer said he expects the Bruins to contend for another Trico League championship in 2014. Last year CHS went 13-1 in Trico (13-5 overall), shared the title with Seton Catholic, and qualified for its sixth consecutive WIAA state tournament in May. (The Bruins lost their first-round match to Seattle Academy, 1-0, in a rematch of 2012 first-round opponents.)
“We expect to be competing for a league title and want to put ourselves in the best position possible going into the playoffs,” Cramer said. “Anything less than that would be disappointing. Get-ting out of the first round of state, which we failed to do the last two years, would be a huge bonus.”
Among Trico teams that could give CHS fits, Cramer said he expects Seton Catho-lic to be “a tough challenge, as I have no reason to expect they won’t be challenging for the league title this year.”
Woodland and Toledo/-Winlock were competitive last season, too, and Cramer believes they both could put pressure on CHS and Seton. “They are not to be taken lightly,” he said.
La Center and Stevenson also could surprise in 2014 after up-and-down seasons the last few years. “You never know when they might have an up year,” Cramer noted. “We know we need to be on our toes and take it game by game.”
Last season, the Bruins were a very good two-way team. They scored 46 goals in 14 league matches and allowed just 10. They also recorded eight shutouts.
“We will have to work very had to repeat those defensive numbers,” Cramer said. “For that reason, our offensive tallies will need to increase.”
Junior Varsity: Cheno Bar-ajas, a 2008 CHS graduate and former program standout, has signed on to be the Junior Bruins’ coach in 2014. Barajas walked on at Seattle Univer-sity and played four years in the NCAA Division I program.
2014 BOYS SOCCER
March 17, vs. Castle Rock*, 6 p.m.
March 19, at La Center*, 6 p.m.
March 22, vs. Stevenson*, 2 p.m.
March 25, at Toledo/Winlock*, 7 p.m.
March 27, at Seton Catholic*, 6:30 p.m.
April 15, vs. King’s Way*, 6 p.m.
April 17, at Castle Rock*, 6 p.m.
April 19, vs. Woodland*, 2 p.m.
April 22, vs. La Center*, 6 p.m.
April 24, at Stevenson*, 6 p.m.
April 29, vs. Toledo/Winlock*, 6 p.m.
May 1, at Woodland*, 6 p.m.
May 6, vs. Seton Catholic*, 6 p.m.
May 8, at King’s Way*, 6 p.m.
Head Coach: Christopher Cramer.
Assistant/JV Coach: Cheno Barajas.