Roche helps CdM believe

Coach George Larsen, as he does with every team he leads, walked up to the Corona del Mar High boys' soccer team before the season.

Conor Roche knew what to expect during the meeting. He played under Larsen last season.

This season was going to be much different. The team lost many key starters, some graduated and a handful opted to play for academy teams, instead of their high school.

Roche was one of two starters returning to play for Larsen.

Larsen treated Roche and the rest of the young team the same way as last season's talented one.

"You guys go over there," Larsen ordered his players away from him. "[Figure out] what your goals are, and then you guys come back to me and tell me what you want to accomplish, what you want to get out of this experience. This is your team. I'm going to be the guy who is going to help you down that road to try and accomplish those things."

Roche and his teammates decided on three goals.

The first was beating Newport Harbor in the Battle of the Bay rivalry match.

The second was winning the Pacific Coast League title.

The third was making a deep run in the CIF Southern Section Division III playoffs.

None of those goals seemed plausible after how the Sea Kings began the season.

Two matches into CdM's season, the best the Sea Kings managed against Newport Harbor was a 1-1 tie.

Eight matches into CdM's season, the Sea Kings managed to win just once.

"A lot of people were … writing us off, just because we had a bad record," said Roche, whose team started 1-5-2, much of it because of a daunting nonleague schedule.

"It was kind of like uncertain how we were going to do."

CdM lost more in one month of this season than it had in the previous two seasons combined.

At the start of the New Year, Larsen, who doesn't do a lot of yelling, reminded Roche and the Sea Kings of their goals.

"You said you wanted to win league," Larsen told his players, who began to believe that the results from the nonleague schedule meant nothing.

The real season was starting Jan. 4, on the road against Northwood. The league opener was the fresh start CdM needed.

Roche and the Sea Kings have taken off ever since. They have won six of seven league matches and they're atop the league standings.

It is quite an accomplishment considering when the Sea Kings were loaded the past two seasons they only claimed one league title.

These current Sea Kings might not be as good as Larsen's first two teams, but this group believes in itself. Not only is a league crown attainable with three league matches left, but Roche is thinking big, like Larsen's previous teams.

In his first season, Larsen led the program to two firsts, CIF Southern Section Division IV and CIF Southern California Regional Division II titles, and then to the CIF Southern Section Division III semifinals in his second season.

Reaching the top won't be easy, but Roche is leading the way the only way he knows how, by example and by scoring goals.

Roche has a team-best 13 goals, more than half of the total has come in league play.

The 6-foot-1 junior striker has helped CdM win four in a row in league and get its overall record above .500 for the first time. Larsen is enjoying his third season at CdM (7-6-2, 6-1-0 in league).

"The journey upward and watching progress is the fun part of coaching," Larsen said. "I don't really mind starting in a humble spot, because then you have the opportunity for growth. Once you get to the top, and you have a team that's been a [section and regional] champ … then it becomes a grind, because then it's about staying there. But while you're building, like right now, you can see the energy in the team is at its height for this season."

Twitter: @DCPenaloza


Conor Roche

Born: Sept. 23, 1994

Hometown: Newport Coast

Height: 6-foot-1

Weight: 150 pounds

Sport: Soccer

Position: Striker

Coach: George Larsen

Favorite food: Pizza

Favorite movie: "Forrest Gump"

Favorite athletic moment: "Last year beating [Newport] Harbor in the Battle of the Bay."

Week in review: Roche scored a goal in each of the Sea Kings' two wins in Pacific Coast League play, helping CdM stay in first place in league.

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