Senior forward Jack Starnes could hardly bear it when the Newport Harbor High boys’ soccer team had its season come to an end on Friday night.
Following a 2-0 loss to La Habra at home in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs, the Sailors headed off to the west end of Davidson Field, where they gathered for another team dinner.
They got in line for a food truck, and Starnes was one of the last ones putting his plate together.
As he spoke about the season, the Sailors captain fought back tears as he remembered what he called, “The best one yet.”
“[I] didn’t even plan on making CIF,” Starnes said. “We beat CdM. We beat Estancia. Those were our two main goals. To do it with having so much fun is something that I will never forget.”
Newport Harbor (11-7-1) qualified for the playoffs as an at-large selection, despite finishing last in the Surf League this season. The postseason berth was a testament to the work put in throughout the year by the Sailors, but the enjoyment of the season went beyond the wins and the losses.
“This team was a lot different this year, closer than ever,” Starnes added. “It truly was just more fun, and then the winning came along with it. It gave us two more free games. These are boys that I have played with my whole life. It was just a blast.”
In his second season at the helm, Sailors coach Ignacio Cid said that seniors like Jimmy Castillo, Jason Hayward and Starnes played a key role in installing a culture of togetherness in the program.
“Being there, physically being there, you can’t miss anything,” Cid said of the staple of his team’s culture. “We did lifting, we did team dinners, we had video [sessions]. We had a lot more things that they had to commit to, so more time together, which brings you closer together.”
Briant Alvarez made seven saves for the Sailors, before giving way to Joshua Flores, who had recorded a shutout in Newport Harbor’s first-round win at Santiago.
La Habra, which advanced to the Division 3 semifinals in consecutive seasons before moving up to Division 2, moved the ball well, especially with the speed of Tanner Coombs and Brady Hart up front.
Coombs scored two first-half goals to send La Habra (15-6-4) on to the quarterfinals. The Highlanders will travel to take on Riverside Arlington (17-2-2) on Tuesday.
“That’s a difficult stump that we’ve got to get over,” Coombs said of his hopes to reach a CIF final. “We’ve gotten so close the past few years. We’ve just got to push through and win that one last game to get there.”
Dane Grassbaugh played a through ball to Hart, who took a shot that was saved by Alvarez. He recovered in time to stop a rebound attempt by Coombs, but the senior forward followed his shot and tucked the ball inside the left post for the opening goal in the sixth minute.
Gabriel Castillo drew the assist on Coombs’ second goal in the 30th minute.
Highlanders coach Joel Carlisle said that his defense has to perform at all levels. After making tackles in the midfield, La Habra quickly executed on the counterattack.
“I think we try to do a quick strike first, but we’ve really been working on our team defense,” Carlisle said. “My philosophy is that defense doesn’t just happen in our defensive third of the field.
“Defense happens in the middle third, even in the offensive third, constantly playing, as a team, defense all over the field.”
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