Wet winter hindered both teams in later part of the season
NORTH COUNTY — The prep boys soccer season has come and gone in the North County with the Paso Robles High Bearcats finishing their season 14-12-4 and getting to the second round of the CIF Central Section Division 3 playoffs. Meanwhile, the Atascadero High Greyhounds finished 5-15-2 overall on the season, their first back in the Mountain League after a string of dominant years in the Ocean League.
This season was an interesting one for both programs due to unforeseen circumstances coming into the season coupled with the incredibly wet winter the Central Coast experienced this winter. The rain caused many issues but none bigger than its effect on practice time and the rescheduling of games due to weather-related cancellations. The Bearcat boys were forced to move around their schedule and ended up having to play six games over the span of just 11 days.
“Practice wasn’t the issue for us this year, it was the schedule,” Bearcat head coach Omar McPherson told the Paso Robles Press. “We played six games in 11 days at one point — not even the pros play that many games in 11 days. We had to cancel a few and then reschedule them and ended up with that scenario. It was tough — there was really no time to practice, it was just recovery and then play, recovery and then play.”
The Bearcats entered the season fresh off a trip to the CIF Central Section Division 2 semifinals in 2022 and began this year winning seven of their first 10 games before heading towards league. Both the Hounds and the Bearcats played in the Mountain League this season which is one of, if not the, deepest and strongest soccer leagues in the Central Section.
“We are in the Mountain League, which is why our record looks the way it does right now. I think the Mountain League prepares us very well for the playoff,” McPherson stated. “Last year, we went all the way to the semifinals in Division 2 and we were in 15th place [seeded 15th in the CIF bracket]. We didn’t do too well in league because of the tough teams like Arroyo Grande, Righetti, and San Luis Obispo.”
Paso Robles finished sixth in the Mountain this season with a league record of 5-7-2 and earned themselves the 12th seed in the Division 3 playoffs and an opening-round matchup against Dinuba on Valentine’s Day. The Bearcats spread the love, scoring four goals while also keeping a clean sheet defensively in winning 4-0. Two days later, the Crimson Cats played the no. 4 seed in Chavez High School with a chance to return to the semifinals on the line.
The Bearcats put themselves in the perfect position to win, going up 2-0 at halftime but allowed three second-half goals to force overtime, where Chavez slammed the door shut with two more goals. Paso Robles fell 5-3.
The wet conditions were also a huge factor in the Greyhounds’ season in the way it limited the team’s ability to practice at all. The difference was while the Bearcats have turf fields at both the high school and Flamson Middle School, Atascadero has not a single blade of artificial grass anywhere in the school district. This forced AHS head coach Gary Setting to hold the majority of his practices on the tennis courts, which unquestionably affected the team’s chemistry and ability to finish in games this year.
“Because of our lack of ability to get on the field and spend much time coordinating, we didn’t quite have — I don’t know I like to call it the symphony — where passing patterns workout and you find some space behind or through the back line,” Setting explained. “That was really hard to find this year, not because of talent but just because of time.”
Not only did the Greyhounds have to deal with the wet elements, but they also were without a field for much longer than expected as the football team made its run all the way to the State Championship game, extending the grid season a month longer than anticipated. While the Hound’s first year back in the Mountain League may not have looked like a success in terms of wins and losses, Setting sees this year as a positive.
“Even though our record doesn’t reflect it, I think this has been one of our better Mountain League seasons,” Setting said. “Each game has been contested, and in the past, I felt like sometimes, San Luis was just better, AG was just better, but I haven’t felt that way this season. I think in most cases, some of those teams are just a year older but aren’t better in their style of play. All of our games this season were highly competitive; I have been super proud of the boys’ consistent effort every game to go compete.”
Atascadero will graduate nine seniors from their team this spring but will return a large portion of their starters as well as most of their offensive output. Both of the Hounds’ top two scorers on the season will return next year, as well as a portion of their defense, making them a scary team for the favorites in the Mountain League come 2024.