NEWPORT COAST — After the game Tuesday, Sage Hill School boys’ soccer coach Noureddine El Alam had one final instruction to his team.
“We’re having team pictures [today],” El Alam said. “You guys need to wash your clothes.”
The Lightning, playing on a field still muddy from the weekend rains, slipped up in dropping a 2-0 decision to Oxford Academy at Sage Hill.
It was Sage Hill’s first Academy League game after earning a forfeit win over Capistrano Valley Christian last week. Junior defender Michael Bear, a team captain for the Lightning (2-4-2, 1-1 in league) said his team’s inexperience showed.
The Lightning lost four first-team All-Academy League players from last season’s team, which went undefeated in league and gave up just one goal in 16 regular-season games. Defender Alex Edelstein, Daily Pilot Player of the Year and two-time league MVP, was among the players lost to graduation.
That team had seven seniors, while this year’s squad has just one in Michael Higgins.
“Inexperience is working against us right now,” Bear said. “With 12 new players to the team this year, this being their first real league game, I don’t really think they knew what to expect. But we’re working hard in practice. We’ll get better and hopefully we’ll get them next time.”
The teams went into the half in a scoreless tie, with the Lightning’s best chance to score coming in the 26th minute. Sophomore midfielder Ben Capaldi made some nifty moves near his own sideline before passing to sliding freshman Taylor Ross, but Oxford goalie Chuck Heredia came up to grab the ball.
Oxford (5-2-1, 2-0) struck first two minutes into the second half, when junior Eric Carpio scored at the post on senior Zach Fountas’ assist. Five minutes later, Patriots junior Cameron Bedard scored on a sliding shot from straightaway in the box, helping the Patriots increase their lead.
The Lightning failed to get many good looks at the goal in the second half, as many of their runs ended with the Sage player tripped up or the Oxford defender recovering in time to boot the ball out of bounds.
“They’re bigger, faster, and they moved the ball around pretty well,” Bear said. “We’ll learn to work together ... It’s definitely a little struggle to find leadership, but we’ve got a good amount of juniors trying to set good examples for the young guys. We want to try to pick up where the seniors of last year left off and get back to CIF.”
Oxford Academy Coach Bill Fountas, who was impressed with his team’s ball movement, said it was a big win early in league for his team. Still, he said he also expects Sage to come together.
“They’re still going to be a contender,” Fountas said. “Really, this is the game you look at. If you can beat [Sage Hill], then you can get a shot at a league championship.”
Sage sophomore Jake Blitzer made four saves in the first half, and junior Craig Jackson added six in the second.
MATT SZABO may be reached at (714) 966-4614 or by e-mail at email@example.com.