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Fun, pressure-free approach paying off for Dana Hills
Leo Compean is not a fan of frosted sugar cookies, much to the surprise of the 22 players making up his varsity boys soccer roster at Dana Hills this season.
One of the team’s senior captains, Sebastian Feine, and sophomores Bobby Reynolds and Hue McCaig decided to bring the package for their coach before the start of the team’s first practice of the new year.
“Next time, get the M&M cookies,” Compean said, preceding his comment that he thinks sugar cookies are nasty. You learn something new every day.
The team dusted the comment off, returning instantaneously back to smiles and laughter. After all, they tried to be nice, right?
That easygoing, fun atmosphere has been present for the Dolphins throughout the preseason, and it has made a big difference.
Dana Hills, fresh off a runner-up performance in a talented pool in the Trabuco Hills Mustang Cup last week, brings a 7-2-1 record into its Sea View League opener Friday at Aliso Niguel.
The Dolphins’ seven wins already have eclipsed the team’s total from last year’s tumultuous 5-13-1 finish. Players and coaches all recognize that playing the sport is easier when the pressure is off and the team is enjoying itself.
“This being our last season, we don’t want to go out the way we did last year,” forward Spencer Madden said. “We knew we wanted to go out with a bang this season.”
Despite the sugar cookies, Compean is having the time of his coaching life. The players are self-motivated and play for one another, he said, so he hasn’t needed to be as hands-on as he has been in the past.
The key is 11 seniors, most of whom have played together for the better part of eight years. Add the wont of better results than they’ve seen in the previous two seasons and these seniors have the tools in place to make the team’s first run at the playoffs since 2013.
“Spencer made the playoffs with this team as a freshman, but we haven’t been invited the past two years, and this group is tired of it,” Compean said. “I’m hoping they’re carrying that this year because they don’t want to be excluded again. This team isn’t saying ‘if’, it’s ‘when,’ and that’s a huge contrast from our teams in the past.”
Compean added that the team has the talent and ability to make a deep run for the first time since the Dolphins made the CIF finals in 2001.
As for the senior leaders, when asked what his goal was coming into the season, Feine said, “Team cohesion.”
“The seniors have been friends for a long time,” Compean said. “When we made the CIF finals in 2001, that group had the same dynamic. It was a bunch of boys who had been friends since elementary school. They know their style. They respect each other. They poke fun at each other. It’s all been fun, and they are so self-driven. It’s all been them.”
Feine, Madden and fellow captain Trevor Allen note that chemistry and experience have led to the team’s early success this season.
The captains won’t discredit the talents of strikers like Paul Romero in the past few seasons, but such strategies have made it easy for opposing teams to formulate their defensive game plan around one player.
Now the Dolphins have multiple weapons. Passing and switching have been such strengths that Compean called it an art form. Nine players have scored at least one goal through the team’s first 10 matches.
“We all trust each other with the ball,” Allen said. “We produce more with that.”
Madden, who was on the varsity three years ago, when the team last made the playoffs, has gained the most attention as a result of a commitment to attend San Diego State University, but Compean believes every player on the roster has a vital role in the team’s fast start.
Those players would include senior Josh Lawless, who missed his junior season because of injury, and junior Dante Romero, who has aided the team’s push. Reynolds, the team’s center back, has stepped up as a sophomore and, along with his teammates on the back line, has saved goals on two occasions when Dolphins’ goalkeepers were caught out of position.
Fellow sophomore McCaig has made his mark, scoring both goals in a 2-1 victory Dec. 11 over San Juan Hills.
“Our whole starting lineup is really solid,” Allen said. “Even the backups, everyone knows what they’re doing.”
This year’s lineup has been full of surprises. Before the Mustang Cup, Compean admitted that he scheduled some time away with his wife during the tournament’s final match, thinking his team probably would be knocked out beforehand.
He had reason to believe it. The Dolphins had never made the finals of the tournament with Compean at the helm, but the team was off to a good start with 2-0 and 1-0 decisions over Foothill and Segerstrom on the first day of the tournament.
Then the Dolphins secured a dominant 4-0 decision against Capistrano Valley, forcing Compean to cancel his plans. The coach still can’t believe the result.
“I wasn’t expecting the finals,” Compean said. “That was a surprise. We came out rusty in the first round, but it was a steady progression. I was speechless after the semifinals. It was such a performance. We have a lot of promise in the next eight games in league.”
Dana Hills fell to Tesoro in the final, ending a seven-game winning streak. The team came out anxious at the start, allowing two goals to the Titans before eventually controlling the second half.
In both losses – the other in the season opener to San Clemente – Compean believes his team outperformed its opponent. In the team’s 1-1 draw against Laguna Beach, the coach said his team became complacent late, allowing the Breakers to stay in it.
If those mental lapses can be avoided, the Dolphins will pursue their first league championship since 2002, which would be a better gesture for its coach than M&M cookies.
“We feel pretty confident rolling into (the Sea View League),” Madden said.
The team long has had the chemistry and the attitude for a playoff push. It has shown what it can do if it executes and focuses on having fun instead of thinking about the pressure.
“The support between players this year is so impressive that even when we lose, there’s no pressure put on the team,” Feine said. “It’s still a cohesive team whether we win or lose. It helps that we’re winning, but in any situation, we know we can rely on each other.”
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