On Thursday, near the end of a session of summer camp, Saugus High boys soccer coach Seth Groller divided the players for a controlled scrimmage.
At one point, the ball found rising senior Tanner Brown, who booted it toward the goal from well beyond the 18-yard box.
The kick didn’t go in.
“The coaches and I joked that not every shot from so far out is going to go in,” Groller said.
The humor comes from a Brown shot that did go in. One that hurtled 49 yards through the air and into the net with less than two minutes left to play, tying the score and sending the game to overtime.
The shot set up James Johnson’s golden goal in double overtime of a CIF-Southern Section Division 4 semifinal against Norwalk on Feb. 28, lifting the Centurions into the program’s first-ever title game.
“It’s so crazy. I’ve never been down for so long, as many minutes, as we were down,” Groller said of Norwalk scoring in the game’s first 30 seconds. “… (Then) ending up tying it, going into overtime and double overtime and finding a way to get the win.”
That moment, and Saugus’ run that included a 2-0 loss to Bellflower in the title game, would be hard for any other team at Saugus to top in 2016-17. But that doesn’t mean other sports, and individuals, didn’t try.
Senior Tanner Olson, Saugus’ co-Male Athlete of the Year, broke the CIF-SS Division 1 meet record in the 100-yard breaststroke.
The girls cross country squad, winner of nine state championships in 10 years entering the season, won its 11th straight Foothill League title before using a dramatic tiebreaker at the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 finals to advance to state.
Mariah Castillo, Saugus’ Female Athlete of the Year, and Kaylee Thompson led the way, finishing fifth and eighth, respectively, to push the Centurions to a second-place finish.
The Saugus boys came in an impressive sixth at state.
On the hardwood, the Centurions posted their first winning season in five years behind Anthony McIntyre and All-SCV Player of the year Zach Phipps.
Saugus won its playoff opener, joining boys tennis, boys soccer and football (which boasted Saugus co-Male Athlete of the Year Daniel Gilmartin) as Centurion teams to win at least one playoff game this year.
Softball, as usual, was in contention for the Foothill League title, but the playoffs didn’t fall its way.
The playoffs did, however, bend to the will of boys soccer.
“It definitely was not easy,” Groller said. “… That was the mentality, that never-give-up attitude and keep playing as hard as you can and good things will happen.”
Five most memorable
Girls cross country
The Centurions won a tiebreaker at the CIF-SS finals to advance to state and made the most of it, finishing second in Division 2.
Boys cross country
Saugus saved its best for last, finishing seventh at the CIF-SS finals and then bursting into sixth at state in Fresno.
The cardiac Cents won two playoff games in double overtime and advanced in penalty kicks in the first round of a SoCal Regional. Ultimately, they’re the Foothill League’s second-ever CIF finalist in boys soccer.
Saugus had a winning season for the first time in five years, finishing 6-4 in the Foothill League and winning its playoff opener against Mark Keppel of Alhambra.
The Centurions busted out of the gate with a 7-0 start to the year. They finished 9-3 after a failed two-point try with less than 10 seconds left sealed a 25-23 loss to Wilson of Long Beach in the D6 quarters.
Phipps rode out a couple tough seasons at Saugus and was rewarded with a sparkling senior year. He averaged 20 points a game, highlighted by 33 points in the Cents’ first-round playoff win.
Johnson challenged Saugus’ single-season goals record, ultimately finishing with 28 to finish two short. But his presence played a big part in the Cents’ first-ever run to a title game.
The double-amputee freshman inspired the Saugus swim team with his perseverance in the pool. Look for Lutges to continue improving his strokes and times in coming years.
The Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks transfer made an immediate impact on Saugus swim. He set a new Foothill meet record in the 50 free and took second in the event at CIF finals.
In football, an injury limited him to six games, but he still finished with four sacks and 29 total tackles. In track and field, he was the Cents’ best in shot and discus. He nearly made state in the latter.
Thompson finished 11th at the CIF-SS D2 finals in cross country, before going on to take eighth at state. She was also a strong contributor in track and field.
The freshman was a factor on both the varsity basketball and varsity softball teams. In softball, she helped the Centurions with her work at the plate, in the field and in the circle.
The heart and soul of Saugus softball finished her final season with a .349 average, seven home runs and 25 RBIs. Her work behind the plate was crucial.
Liebe led the Centurions to a third-place finish in the Foothill League and a berth in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs. She had 304 kills in 92 games, according to MaxPreps.
The senior wing was a force on offense for what was an otherwise young Centurions team, averaging 20 points, six rebounds and two assists.
Saugus took third in the Foothill League and knocked off Mark Keppel of Alhambra in the first round before falling to Dos Pueblos of Goleta, 75-65, in the second round.
Boys cross country
Saugus finished seventh in Division 2 at CIF-SS finals and then took sixth at state in Division 2.
Girls cross country
The Centurions won their 11th straight Foothill League title, finished seventh at the CIF-SS finals and took second at state in Division 2.
Saugus took third in league and knocked off Crescenta Valley in the first round of the D6 playoffs. Then the Cents lost a heartbreaker, 25-23, to Wilson of Long Beach in the quarters.
The Centurions finished fourth place as a team in the Foothill League and shot a 410 at the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division Team Divisional at Soule Park Golf Course in Ojai, good for ninth place.
The first team in program history to advance to a CIF final, Saugus lost 2-0 to Bellflower in the D4 championship before going on to win one SoCal Regional playoff game.
The Centurions were unable to break through the first round of the brutal Division 1 playoffs, falling 8-4 to Pacifica of Garden Grove. Saugus finished second place in the Foothill League.
Ranked near the top of Division 3 for most of the year, Saugus beat Pacifica of Oxnard in the first round of playoffs, before losing 11-7 to La Quinta of Westminster in the second round.
A second-place team in the Foothill League, Saugus won four of its final five regular-season games. It then fell 3-0 to El Segundo in the first round of the Division 2 playoffs.
The Centurions finished third in the Foothill League before falling to Notre Dame Academy of Los Angeles, 3-0, in the first round of the Division 3 playoffs.