A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

An additional four to six-week delay faces students who have already submitted their FAFSA for 2024-2025 academic year.
FAFSA Updates Result in More Delays
Amy Moore, Reporter • February 14, 2024

SRJC men’s soccer comes up just short in state semi-finals matchup

Peter Morales
Despite a strong Fall 2023 season, the Santa Rosa Junior College men’s soccer team loses to Cuyamaca College in overtime of a grueling CCCAA semi-finals state championship match. Photo of Bear Cubs defender Darren O’Leary taken at the Nov. 21 game against Cañada College.

The Santa Rosa Junior College men’s soccer team took a heartbreaking extra-time loss in the semi-finals of the CCCAA state championship at Mt. San Antonio College against the Cuyamaca College Coyotes Dec. 1.

This matchup was quite an exciting one, with the scoreline locked at 2-2 when the full-time whistle was blown. Unfortunately, the Bear Cubs conceded in the first half of extra time. They pressured Cuyamaca for the entire second half of extra time but were unable to find a reply to the Coyotes’ final strike, and the 3-2 result remained until the final whistle.

With this result, the Bear Cubs are unable to reclaim their titles as state champions, but they put up an impressive performance nonetheless. They stayed on top or tied with the Coyotes for the entirety of the initial 90 minutes. The two teams battled it out mainly within the midfield for the first half and used more counter-attacking down the wings for the majority of the second. 

The game was tightly contested; neither team had many clear-cut opportunities on goal until Santa Rosa took an early lead in the 28th minute. SRJC midfielder Gael Cervera delivered a low cross, which was met by a great strike outside the box from forward Victor Vargas, who’s been the talisman for the Bear Cubs, putting up 13 goals and 7 assists this season. 

Cuyamaca managed a quick reply only a few minutes later, winning a free kick from deep outside the box. Midfielder Kevin Blanchet took the free kick and whipped a cross into a dangerous area. The ball took a deflection off an SRJC defender and was ruled as an own goal, evening the score at 1-1 in the 32nd minute.

After the Bear Cubs looked to their bench in the 37th minute, midfielder Sam Nolan, another one of SRJC’s top players this season, went on a superb run through the Cuyamaca defense, dribbling from nearly his own half to just outside their box. There, he placed an amazing shot into the top left-hand corner to re-establish the Bear Cubs’ lead in the 39th minute.

But Cuyamaca upped the pressure and managed to grab another tying goal from a corner. Midfielder Enrique Rodriguez crossed the ball towards defender Venizio Dimas, who was able to just barely sneak the ball into the back of the net through the packed SRJC box in the 43rd minute.

The first half seemed indicative of what was to come, as both teams started off hot offensively with two goals apiece. Santa Rosa’s biggest weakness was its defense on set pieces, as crosses from a corner kick and a long free kick from Cuyamaca led to two goals in the first half.

The second half was an entirely different game, with more aggressive challenges flying in. Both teams found themselves still level at 2-2 by the time the final whistle was blown, though the Bear Cubs managed to amass more shots and fewer fouls by full time.

Even without the lack of goalscoring in the second half, there certainly wasn’t a lack of excitement. In the 56th minute, SRJC forward Victor Vargas looked to score again, with an insane flick into a volleying effort from outside the box that was just saved by Cuyamaca goalkeeper Pablo Torres. Other close efforts came from SRJC players Angel Arriaga, Sam Nolan, Alex Climaco and Jasveer Dadlani Garcias.

As the final whistle blew, the game looked very even, with both teams relying heavily on counter-attacks and wing play. The tension going into extra time was palpable, and while Santa Rosa initially looked to take charge, putting up two dangerous shots in the first five minutes of overtime, it was Cuyamaca who was able to strike again nine minutes into the first half of overtime with a left-footed effort from midfielder Enrique Rodriguez from outside the box into the top right corner of the goal. This put the Coyotes up 3-2.

At this point, the pressure was on the Bear Cubs, not only because they went down in overtime, but because three goals is the most they’ve conceded in a single game this entire season.

Santa Rosa played aggressively for the remainder of the game, keeping the majority of possession for both halves of overtime and ending the matchup with a staggering 23 total shots. But after some missed opportunities, referees blew the second final whistle, ending what has been an outstanding season for the Bear Cubs overall. 

They finished first in the NorCal finals after an impressive conference record of eight wins and only two losses. They also managed a staggering 63 goals in 23 games, averaging 2.74 goals per game, and only allowed .80 goals per game with only 19 scored against them all year.

“We gave it our all,” said forward Victor Vargas, a standout player for the Bear Cubs this season who is tied for most goal contributions on the year with 14 goals and 7 assists. “Fought (for) every ball played every minute like if it was our last, and it just didn’t go our way, but that’s soccer. We take our losses how we take our wins. But we’re thankful and proud we made it this far.”

Santa Rosa defender Darren O’Leary has been one of the team’s most consistent players all season from the center back position, not missing even a single minute of action during the Bear Cubs’ entire season. After the game, he said, “Key takeaways from the result is that we just needed to stomp down better defensively. Between our first and second goals, they equalized within three minutes of both, which was just so uncharacteristic for us to let happen. Yesterday’s game was the first time this whole year we conceded three goals, and we paid for it.”

O’Leary talked about the team’s mentality and his personal experiences this season. “Every game I believed our personnel was always better and we knew we could play with any team,” he said. “This team had a lot of spirit and grit. We never gave up.”

One of his favorite games was against Cañada College. “We went 2-0 down and came back to win 4-2. It really showed what we were made of,” O’Leary said. “Most teams would have given up but that was not this team, down by two goals. We still had the fight to come back and win. I absolutely loved playing with these guys every day, and the coaches were amazing. They did everything they could for us, and they played a massive role in the success of this team.”

Besides Vargas, other standout offensive SRJC players this season included midfielder Sam Nolan, who amassed the most assists on the year with 8, along with putting up 13 goals, and  midfielder Alex Climaco with 7 goals and 4 assists.

Overall it was an amazing season for SRJC men’s soccer, as its great league record and playoff run led to the Bear Cubs’ best record since the 2019-20 season.

About the Contributors
Jonathan Cangson, Reporter
Jonathan Cangson (he/him) is in his fourth semester of The Oak Leaf as a reporter and editor focused primarily on sports coverage and social media coverage. He hopes to graduate soon with his associates in Journalism. He also hopes to become a broadcast journalist and commentate for a company like ESPN or Sky Sports. He likes to play with his dogs, hang out with friends, and watch Arsenal FC and the Golden State Warriors.
Peter Morales, Editor
Peter Morales is in his fourth semester reporting for The Oak Leaf and working towards a journalism degree, with his sights on San Francisco State. He hopes to take more photos of general news as well as sports. His dream is to one day accomplish something with his life, and cause as many problems to the status quo through storytelling and photography. "Who knows, maybe I'll destabilize a government or two before my mid-life crisis."