After losing seven starters from the Rio Mesa High boys' soccer team, Coach Brent Kruk figured he would be in for a hefty rebuilding project.
Now, with the Spartans having advanced to the quarterfinals of the 82-team L.A. Watts Summer Games tournament, Kruk may have to rethink those plans.
"This [season] is going to be my test year," said Kruk, who has coached Rio Mesa for four seasons. "We've had talent before but now we're going to have to develop it at almost every position."
Apparently it's already developing, for Rio Mesa needs to win only two more matches in the single-elimination tournament to advance to its second final in three years.
The Spartans lost, 4-0, to Millikan in the 1996 final.
Rio Mesa must defeat three opponents in five hours Sunday to claim the title. Each game in the tournament is 50 minutes, compared to the 80-minute games played during the high school season.
Kruk's relatively low expectations for his Watts Games roster stemmed from the turbulent campaign the Rio Mesa junior varsity had last season. A succession of coaches led to low morale and poor attendance at workouts.
"They had 21 guys on the team and six would show up for practice," said Kruk, whose varsity was 15-7-4 last season. "The group I had [on varsity] last season was real focused, but the young guys coming up can take it or leave it with soccer."
Rio Mesa had only four players--Austin Dillon, Ivan Medina, Chris High and Mike Alexander--with varsity experience last weekend.
Two others, Bryan Monka and Keith Yanov, will join the team Sunday upon their return from an academic conference.
Dillon, Medina, Diran Balekian and Chris Schwarze scored in the team's opening, 4-1 win over Anaheim Katella. Medina and Johnny Juarez scored regulation goals in the next round, where the Spartans downed Highland on penalty kicks.
Dillon, a senior, scored his second goal in a 1-0 defeat of Arcadia that set up a quarterfinal showdown with Wilmington Banning on Sunday.
"I like going down to this tournament because you get to see teams you normally don't see and I get to look at kids for next year," Kruk said. "We usually hope to get at least two games in. This year we got a few more."
Kruk's main concern isn't so much whether the team wins or loses at the Watts Games and later this summer at the San Marcos tournament, but whether senior forward David Cervantes will be available next season.
Cervantes, who scored 29 goals in 23 games and earned All-Southern Section Division II honors last season, is in Dardanelle, Ark., and Kruk has no idea whether he will return.
Cervantes' family moved from California to Arkansas last spring but the student undertook a 40-hour bus ride in October to return to Oxnard, where he lived with an older sister and re-enrolled at Rio Mesa.
Kruk said Cervantes checked out of Rio Mesa on May 8 and did not enroll in Dardanelle when he arrived.
Kruk said he is concerned Cervantes will not receive credit for the spring semester, in which he had earned a 3.0 grade-point average before his departure.
"He will have blown the whole semester and won't be eligible [for soccer in the fall]," Kruk said. "We're trying to get things worked out."
At the other end of the Watts Games soccer spectrum is the Ventura boys' team, which not only lost its only game, 4-1 to Wilmington Banning, but played the first half with only six field players and a goalkeeper.
Cougar Coach Todd Tackett said half the team went to buy socks en route to the game at Cal State Dominguez Hills but got lost.
By the time the missing players found their way to the field, Ventura trailed, 3-0, at halftime.
"I told them we didn't need socks, that we could play in the ones we had, but they insisted," Tackett said. "The sad thing is we had 14 shots, including three off the post in the second half. We were just too far behind."