The MVRHS boys soccer team begins the 2018 season this week with high expectations, a five-year run of success, and no small amount of uncertainty.
As members of the new Cape and Islands League, Vineyard teams will face an array of unfamiliar opponents this year. The new season begins on Sept. 5 in Hyannis against one such opponent, St. John Paul II High School. The first home match is Sept. 11 at 4:15 pm, vs. Cape Cod Tech at Dan McCarthy Field in Oak Bluffs.
As fifth-year head coach Esteban Aranzabe sees it, the new format will likely have significant impact on the status quo, but won’t change the way he prepares his team.
“We’ve lost some traditional rivals, many of them strong teams who made us better,” he said. “The new schedule will be very different. We’ll see what the effects are. Right now, we’re practicing as hard as ever and pursuing our goals.”
Those goals are both immediate and lifelong, and were succinctly summed up by Coach Aranzabe. “Accountability. Respect. Commitment. Hard work. Those are values we impart to our kids every day,” he said. “We’re not in the classroom, but we are teachers.”
A major preseason focus is conditioning. Since welcoming 54 soccer candidates on August 25, the coaches have been pushing the boys hard, with an emphasis on endurance, speed, and rigorous skill work. Eventually, 40 boys remained to vie for 20 varsity spots. The hard work and life lessons continue.
“We talk with them a lot,” Coach Aranzabe said, “About values, about personal responsibility, about staying eligible, and keeping the team together.”
And about striving for your own goals. With varsity spots up for grabs, competition within the team is intense and ongoing. “In a recent scrimmage, the JV outplayed the varsity,” said Aranzabe. “Players move up and down between the two teams. It’s like an elevator.”
Two players with very secure roles are captains Matheus Brito, a senior, and junior Morgan Estrella. “These boys embody our team values and are excellent leaders,” Aranzabe said. “They were named captains by me. We will add a third captain, chosen by the team, after the season begins.”
On this day, Coach Aranzabe had a lot on his mind. While his team was busy washing cars over by the PAC, under the guidance of booster club leader Manny Estrella (Morgan’s father), the coach was preparing for a scrimmage against the formidable E.O. Smith High School team from Storrs, Conn.
“This is one traditional rival still on our schedule,” he explained. “It’s an annual match here on our field, and always a good test for us.”
During a quick break from scrimmage prep, he reflected on his sport’s status on Martha’s Vineyard.
“I grew up in Uruguay and know about life’s hard knocks. As head coach, I have wanted to give back to the Island. With help from the boosters and others, we’ve built a year-round developmental program, MV Youth Soccer, for kids of all ages and abilities.”
The results speak for themselves. Consider: This year saw a combined 94 sign-ups for boys and girls soccer. Girls soccer, once limited to a varsity team, now fields a JV team as well. The varsity boys have qualified for tournament play four of the past five years.
Island soccer’s success goes beyond the numbers. “We are truly a multicultural team,” said Aranzabe. “Our players and coaches are a reflection of society, of real life. We’ve accomplished a great deal here on and off the field, and would like that to be recognized.”
As for the game itself, the boys fell 2-0 to Smith, but played well. “It was a great opportunity for us to try out everything we’ve been working on,” Aranzabe said. “The goal now is to win the league again, and go as far as we can in the playoffs.”
A worthy goal for life.