The College of the Canyons men’s soccer team added its first Western State Conference, South Division championship to its collection last year, but as the Cougars prepare to defend their title this season, they aren’t changing their approach.
“From our perspective, it’s business as usual. I think in our division in particular, even though we haven’t put a lot of numbers on that fence, I think we’ve been the class of our division,” said head coach Philip Marcellin. “Even though we hadn’t won a conference championship, we’ve been to a regional final, we’ve been to a state final.
“We’ve been close so many times, it comes down to sometimes one goal. I would tell you that in all of community college athletics, the most competitive sport year in and year out is men’s soccer.”
Last year, the Cougars reached the postseason for the first time since 2010 when they made a run all the way to the state final, losing to Mt. San Antonio College.
Canyons also lost to Mt. SAC in the first round of the playoffs last season, but the Cougars will have a chance at redemption when they open the season against the Mounties on Friday, Sept. 6.
“That will be a big test for us. That’s the team we lost to in the first round of the playoffs,” Marcellin said. “I’m always super cautious at the beginning. This is my 26 year at the community college level, so I know until the uniforms are on and all the papers are cleared and you get a couple weeks into the season, you really don’t know what you’re going to look like.”
The Cougars graduated 17 sophomores, including 10 starters, from last year’s team. They return just one starter who saw consistent minutes, Jake Erazo, a Hart alumnus who is the team’s starting centre back.
“That class did what they needed to do, they came in, they were competitive, they almost won a conference championship as freshmen, came back and completed the job and got into the postseason and that’s our goal every time,” Marcellin said. “To compete in conference, try to win the conference, get into the postseason and hopefully the strength of our schedule will get us a higher seed.”
Despite losing a majority of last year’s squad, the Cougars welcome an influx of new talent including Saugus graduates Dylan Sullivan, who led the Foothill League with 20 goals last season, and Frank Ornelas.
Herber Monzon, a Taft High School alumnus, is also expected to make an immediate impact on defense.
“We’re cautiously optimistic. We have a lot of quality on this team, but we have a whole lot of what-ifs before we get through the eligibility clearance and see who’s there,” Marcellin said. “So far from what we’ve seen this summer of the local guys, the three biggest standouts are Dylan Sullivan from Saugus and Frank Ornelas also from Saugus. A new kid, Herber Monzon, we were super impressed with him in the scrimmage on Friday. He can play a variety of roles and every position in our backline.”
According to Marcellin, the biggest area of need is defense, as the team is loaded with talent in the midfield and up front.
That’s where Monzon will make his biggest contribution, as a defender who can play on either side of the field or in one of the centre back spots.
“Defense is where we are our thinnest. We are really deep in the midfield and attacking positions, but we don’t have a lot of experience and depth in our defensive positions,” Marcellin said. “To have a guy like (Monzon) come in and play any one of the four backline positions and have an impact, that’s huge for us.”
The Cougars will also have a new keeper in goal, as 6-foot-2 Kian Bensend steps in as the last line of defense.
Bensend, a standout high school athlete who played for the Real Salt Lake Academy program in Casa Grande, Arizona his junior and senior year, was recruited to play at Division 1 Sacramento State.
Things didn’t work out for him up north, and he returned earlier this year to join the COC program.
“He’s a Division 1 bounce back, he joined us mid-year, came in the spring and had a really productive spring so we are expecting good things,” Marcellin said about Bensend. “In all the years we had a men’s program, he’s probably the best goalkeeper that we’ve ever had, so that can be a game-changer for us, but we have to make sure the other spots are solid as we go.”
Canyons scrimmaged against The Master’s University last Friday and will play one more scrimmage this Friday against Fullerton at home.
The regular season begins on the road against Mt. SAC and the Cougars will return home on Tuesday, Sept. 10 to face Moorpark.
Marcellin knows it’s going to take some time for his new players to get acclimated and for things to fall into place such as players submitting the required paperwork, but he’s confident in the talent and passion his team has showcased so far through camp and at the first scrimmage.
“We had a really good result in our scrimmage but that doesn’t mean anything until all the eligibility paperwork is done and everybody has checked off all the boxes and doing the student-athlete thing the way it’s supposed to be, and then we can start stringing together some results and see what happens,” he said.
“You really don’t know what you’re going to look like, but if the team that played the majority of minutes in our scrimmage is eligible and fit to play in the first half of the season, I think we’re going to be pretty solid, so we’re optimistic.”