At Colusa High School boy’s soccer is more than a sport, it’s a culture carefully cultivated by longtime coach Dan Kiely, who in addition to building a perennially competitive program, has created an extended family of players both past and present.
As a result, the setting for the Northern Section Division III championship was perfect as the family turned out among the large crowd to watch this group of RedHawks hold off No. 3 Esparto 1-0 and claim the third title for Colusa in Kiely’s 29-year involvement with the team.
No. 1 seeded Colusa came out aggressively, peppering Esparto goalkeeper Nico Miranda with a multitude of shots in the first half, but Miranda held his ground turning away everything the RedHawks had to offer with the exception of one.
What would prove to be the differential for Colusa came in the 20th minute when following a RedHawk corner kick that the Spartans failed to clear and two attempts at point blank range, forward Victor Hernandez got a foot on the ball amidst the tangle of bodies in the box and pushed it across the line.
Hernandez, whose brother Jorge played on the RedHawks’ 2016 championship team, said that connection gave him a little extra motivation in Saturday’s match.
“When I was younger, I witnessed by brother’s team win the section championship and ever since then I have wanted to accomplish the same thing. Also, at the end of the day, I feel that our record wouldn’t have meant anything if we didn’t win it,” said Hernandez
The senior, who led the Northern Section in goals scored this season tallying 42, without question got his most important in Saturday’s contest.
However, the RedHawks still needed to control the Spartans for the remainder of the match and did just that with another impressive effort by the defense.
Goalkeeper Diego Avila, although unchallenged in the first half earned the shutout by keeping a clean sheet over the final 40 minutes despite increased pressure by the Spartans and was aided considerably by the outstanding play of defenders Jesus Hernandez, Andy Lopez, Darien Sarabia and Nico Lopez.
Midfielders Edgar Garcia, Ulises Galvan, Rodrigo Rodriguez and Dominic Garcia along with forward Alejandro Rico also played an important role in moving the ball out of harm’s way and into the Spartan side of the field.
Avila, who at young age watched his older brother Christian play for Colusa, made six saves in the title match and credited the defense in front of him while also describing the significance of this win.
“We have the best defense in the league and my defenders always step up in big games. Our coach pushed us hard so we could win, and this means everything to me,” Avila said.
On the season Avila registered 87 saves and 11 shutouts.
The RedHawks, who beat Rio Vista to win their first title back in 2004, and Esparto in 2016 for the second, have turned in one of the best seasons in the team’s history and according to Kiely its not hard to see why.
“There are so many highly skilled players on this team and each player has a deep passion for the game of soccer, both of which are key for our team. One of the bigger reasons for our success however is they truly understand what teamwork is all about and they are unselfish. Each player does whatever it takes to help his team succeed both on and off the field,” said Kiely, who in addition to winning the section title just recently received notice that he will be inducted into the CYSA Hall of Fame in Pleasanton on March 14.
Both the win and honor are a fitting reward for a coach who continues to inspire new generations to play soccer, the sport he loves.
To get to the championship match the RedHawks had to get through last Tuesday’s semifinal against No. 4 Williams, the only team to have beaten Colusa so far this season.
However, a Hernandez hat trick and a late, long range goal by Galvan was more than enough to secure the 4-0 shutout victory.
Colusa (22-1-2) began play in the 2020 CIF Northern California Regional Tournament on March 3 at the California Soccer Park in Redding as the No. 7 seed when it squared off against No. 2 Anderson, a team it defeated 1-0 in a non-conference match back in January.