Returning State Champs fight through new season with fresh faces

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El Cajon Valley is starting a new season on the heels of a historic year for the school’s soccer program. The Braves took home the 2017 State title, a momentous victory for a school that tends to see very little in the way of athletic success, compared to its powerhouse neighbors. 

But if anyone expected the Braves to slide into another victorious season, they sorely mistook the nature of high school sports. Only five players from the title-winning team returned, and of those, only two are starting.

El Cajon Valley is starting a new season on the heels of a historic year for the school’s soccer program. The Braves took home the 2017 State title, a momentous victory for a school that tends to see very little in the way of athletic success, compared to its powerhouse neighbors. 

But if anyone expected the Braves to slide into another victorious season, they sorely mistook the nature of high school sports. Only five players from the title-winning team returned, and of those, only two are starting.

“That’s one of the things you can’t predict a lot of times,” said head coach Antonio Lavenant. “You want to hope that guys come back and stay committed but sometimes life happens and you have to readjust and still try to compete every single game.”

The Braves lost 11 potential returners, making them underdogs once again.

Finding a new footing is the focus of the new Braves. 

“When you get into such a flow like last year, and then you have different players and you’re asking a lot from them, we have moments where we get into a rhythm and then we stumble,” said Lavenant after their first conference game against the D1 Granite Hills program, which they tied 2-2. “Right now we’re 5-5-5 and I think that’s reflective of our season.”

Owing to their state title, the Braves have graduated from the Grossmont Valley league to the Hills league. This means a sharp increase in the quality of teams they will be playing against — mostly D1, D2 and D3. El Cajon Valley boys’ soccer is a D4 program.

During the first week of January, the team placed third at the Mendez Invitational Tournament and most of the schools they played in preseason were D2 and D3 programs in an attempt to ready the fresh faces to the level of play they will face in league, said Lavenant. 

“Just to be at that level, you have to play those big teams,” he said. “They’re not easy teams to beat and you have to fight every single game.”

Team captain senior striker Liyon Kalyana said the team’s roster may have changed from last year, but their drive is the same.

“We’ve got young players, but we’re still coming out with the same heart,” he said. “We are going to win league, CIF and State, same as last year.”

Abraham Canales, one of the few returners from last year’s team, expressed a similar confidence in his teammates.

“We know what we’re doing,” he said.

The Braves are currently 5-5-6 for the season and 0-0-2 in league. They have conference matches against Grossmont and West Hills this week. 

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