Bruins play for the long haul
“When I was your age I played soccer for four or five hours straight,” Coach Sukum Sai-Ngarm recounted to the Bear River High soccer team at practice Monday.
Sai-Ngarm was reminding his players that while bigger schools may be subbing out players constantly, they need to be ready to run for 90 minutes straight, without substitutions.
Sai-Ngarm has no illusions about the Bruins, who went 3-12-3 overall and 1-7-2 in Pioneer Valley League play last year. He knows the team is few in numbers and many of its players don’t play soccer year-round. But he has also taught his players how that can work toward their advantage.
“I have some good players, but never enough,” Sai-Ngarm said. “What I like is I have quite a few seniors. As they move into their last year they realize, ‘This is it.’ There is nothing like desire. Once you have desire you can do anything with it. Soccer is one game where you can make up technical ability with desire.”
So far the Bruins are 3-2-2. They beat Forest Lake Christian twice, but struggled in two losses against Lindhurst. Sai-Ngarm said he only has a small amount of time at the start of the season to get his team ready, since many of them are more recreational players. He uses the non-league games as practice for Pioneer Valley League games.
“It’s tough, but this is the challenge for me, ‘How do I get them to be in a competitive mindset in just three weeks?’” Sai-Ngarm said. “It also has to be fun.”
Senior stopper Cameron Billingham said other teams may try to run them ragged, but Bear River is cohesive from playing so much together. The team also focuses heavily on conditioning to build endurance.
“The bigger teams are a problem for us physicality-wise. By subbing out players every 10 minutes they always have fresh legs,” Billingham said. “Being smaller, we have some good qualities. I think the fact that we are more connected.”
Billingham said Sai-Ngarm is allowing the Bruins to step up their offense. Senior left defender Jed Lyon is attending the Air Force Academy next fall, where he hopes to become a pilot and possibly play on the soccer team. Four of his other siblings are already enlisted in the Air Force.
Lyon said in past years the team has been stronger when it comes to defense. Bear River will keep that same formula, while taking advantage of the more aggressive offense.
Taking the helm at defense are senior goalkeeper Walker Brit and junior goalkeeper Tom Wong. Joining Billingham and Lyon as fullbacks are seniors CJ Olsen and Skylar Gemigmani.
“As a sweeper CJ is a really great player,” Billingham said. “He is really fast.”
Matt Gallagher and speedy Jason Esteban are making strides on offense. Both scored goals at the Del Campo Tournament, held at Cherry Island Soccer Complex last weekend. Gallagher flew through the air, with both feet off the ground, and kicked the ball in for a goal.
“We are definitely a defense-focused team,” Lyon said. “We always try to win from the back. And we have a really strong back line. All of the guys are the biggest guys on the team.”
Both Lyon and Billingham said if there is one team they would love to beat their final year at Bear River, it’s Colfax, partially because the Falcons are the most similar in size and close in proximity.
Billingham is applying to film schools, including one through the University of Southern California. He may play intramural soccer.
With little time left on the field as Bruins, both are more intent to take on their Falcon rivals with some intensity.
“We’ve got it in for them this year,” Lyon said. “I would say the goal is always league (championships).”
Reach Sara Seyydin at email@example.com. For the latest in Journal Sports follow us on twitter @PlacerSports.