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Sylmar soccer team displays selfless teamwork

Eric Sondheimer
Contact ReporterVarsity Times Insider

It was a sports moment that defines the reason coaches coach.

Sylmar High's standout soccer player, Anthony Lopez, who could be playing in the professional ranks one day, drew a foul with six minutes left with the Spartans tied, 1-1, with El Camino Real in a quarterfinal game of the City Section Division I playoffs. He was awarded a penalty kick. It was his chance to deliver a game-winning goal.

And yet, with no coaxing from his coach, Lopez turned to his friend, Alexis Gomez, the team captain, and asked him to take the shot.

"When he trusted Alexis with that shot, I was very proud and knew he was not making a mistake," Coach Carlos Olivares said. "I trusted the judgment they were making, one giving up the opportunity and the other accepting the responsibility to put the game away."

Gomez scored and Sylmar came away with a 2-1 victory. That moment was validation for what Olivares has been trying to teach his players about sacrifice, teamwork and trust.

Gomez has been used on penalty kicks for four years. Lopez has been his friend since freshman year.

"For me, Anthony's decision to take it would have been OK," Olivares said. "But this group of kids, that's how they are. They're very supportive of each other and trust each other. It was not surprising to me for Anthony to act that way and be very sharing."

Sometimes coaches get into trouble by over-coaching during games. Not Olivares.

"My work is done at practice," he said. "When we go out to games, they do what they do on their own and my job is to remind them, 'This is how we have success.' This is their moment. They have to own it. It's been my personal belief that the game belongs to the players and preparation belongs to the coach."

Sylmar plays at Palisades on Tuesday in a semifinal game. Whatever happens, Olivares knows his players have learned what teamwork really means.

"Those are the moments you work on a daily basis and for them to trust each other like that is a proud moment," Olivares said. "It's that moment when you realize, 'Those guys are going to turn out great people.' "

Change of heart

I was not an original supporter of the concept of the Open Division in Southern Section basketball. I thought the idea of putting the best 16 teams together regardless of their size or playoff division would weaken the other divisions too much. In fact, the other divisions have been weakened but the sacrifice to create the moment when best meets best has been worth it.

The Southern Section's final matchups for boys and girls couldn't be any better from a fan's perspective. Chino Hills (30-0), with 16 games of 100 points or more, will take on Chatsworth Sierra Canyon (26-3), a team that lost by only a point in January to powerful Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill. The game is set for 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Honda Center.

In the girls' final, Long Beach Poly (25-3), owning a 20-game winning streak, will face West Hills Chaminade (26-4), which has USC-bound Valerie Higgins and Duke-bound Leaonna Odom. The site and time will be announced Monday.

Opening-day gems

Opening day in prep baseball Saturday produced some memorable performances.

Left-hander Chris Murphy of Granada Hills, the hardest-throwing pitcher in the City Section, struck out 17 in a 2-0 victory over Los Angeles Roosevelt. His opponent, Kenny Gallegos, struck out 16.

Scott Andersen of Los Alamitos threw a 4-0 no-hitter against Lakewood. And Canyon Country Canyon unveiled a female pitcher, Valerie Gonzales, in a loss to Ventura St. Bonaventure.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 29, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Sylmar soccer players display selfless attitude - Decision on penalty kick is a prime example of Spartans' team approach." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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