By Nick Giannandrea
For the first time in program history, College of the Sequoias' men's soccer team has captured a conference championship and a spot in the postseason.
After an improbable run to the Central Valley Conference title -- and its automatic berth into the Northern California Regional Playoffs -- the Giants (10-7-3) were seeded No. 15 and are set to open the postseason at No. 2 Foothill on Nov. 20. Kickoff for the match against the state co-No. 1-ranked Owls (17-0-2) is 2 p.m. in Los Altos Hills.
"We've earned it," Sequoias coach Renato Bustamante said. "I'm really proud of them, and their growth on and off the field. This team is playing confident and with a belief that we can compete with anybody toe to toe."
Following a 2-7-2 start to the season, including a 0-3-0 mark in the CVC, the unranked Giants' only path into the playoffs appeared to be through winning the title of a conference featuring three state-ranked teams in No. 9 Fresno City, No. 12 Merced and No. 14 Taft.
And that's exactly what Sequoias accomplished by going unbeaten (8-0-1) over its final nine regular season games, including a 6-0-1 mark in the CVC.
The Giants started their regular season-closing run with a 1-0 win at Taft on Oct. 12. They would also go on to avenge losses to Fresno City, Merced and Clovis during the second round of CVC play.
"We had to find solutions, not make excuses and hold each other accountable to be the best versions of ourselves," Bustamante said. "We had to break a lot of bad habits to reach our potential. The journey hasn't been easy, but those types of situations make you stronger and have made the bond of this group even closer."
The Giants (6-3-1 in CVC play) secured the first conference title in program history with a 4-0 home victory over West Hills-Lemoore on Nov. 12 that featured goals from Salvador Chavez (Redwood High), Sebastian Caballero (Golden West), Osvaldo Ibarra (Strathmore) and Adrian Lopez (Mt. Whitney), three assists from Alex Saldana (El Diamante), two assists from Marques Carrillo (Golden West) and one assist apiece from Chavez and Moises Cortes (Tulare Union).
Fresno City finished second in the CVC at 5-3-2.
"We've been playing under this pressure for over a month now," Bustamante said. "We knew we had to win out (to make the postseason.) Pressure is a privilege for this group. We've accepted it and excelled."
Sequoias captured three of the conference's major postseason awards: Player of the Year in Saldana, Freshman of the Year in Christian Trujillo and Coach of the Year in Bustamante.
Saldana, a sophomore midfielder, has a team-leading eight assists and three goals for the Giants.
Trujillo, a midfielder from Golden West, has a team co-leading five goals along with six assists.
Ibarra has five goals and two assists, Perez has scored three goals and Lopez has contributed two goals and four assists.
Freshman defender Mathew Ramirez (Lemoore), sophomore midfielder Rogelio Bedolla-Ponce (Porterville), sophomore midfielder Carlos Siliezar (Redwood) and freshman goalkeeper Zachary Ramirez (Orange Cove) were named second-team All-CVC.
On the season, Mathew Ramirez has one assist, Bedolla-Ponce has two goals and two assists, Siliezar one goal and one assist, and Zachary Ramirez has made 13 saves, posted three shutouts and allowed 14 goals in 12 games.