James Boscaro had immediate success when he took the reins of the San Luis Obispo High School boys soccer team for the 2014-15 season, piloting an experienced group to the third round of the CIF-Southern Section Divison 3 playoffs.
The Tigers repeated their showing in the postseason the next season with a team, again, composed of mostly upperclassmen.
But with the team finding its ceiling of sorts, Boscaro knew he had to change something coming into last season. Turns out, Branden Dolezal — the lone freshman on the 2015-16 squad — became the catalyst for that change.
Dolezal convinced Boscaro through his play as a freshman that having a younger team had its merits. So Boscaro shook things up for Dolezal’s sophomore year, going for a younger approach. The team advanced to the second round of the Division 2 playoffs, losing to the eventual champion Godinez, but the experience was valuable for the young core.
Now, instead of graduating a large group of players, the majority of the team is back — with Dolezal, last year’s PAC 8 MVP and Tribune County Player of the Year, leading the way. The Tigers (7-0-0) are ranked No. 1 in the Southern Section and 12th in the country by Max Preps coming off a 3-2 home victory Wednesday night over Central Coast rival Santa Maria.
The Tigers this season don’t have a single freshman on the roster. Last year’s freshman are bigger, faster and more experienced, which showed against Santa Maria (4-3-1).
“That’s what won us the game tonight,” Boscaro said, referring to the team’s experience. “It’s not what we did at practice yesterday, but it’s what those freshmen that we had on our team last year did last year. We tie those games last year.”
The Tigers scored three goals in the first half and were able to hold on for the victory. Santa Maria limited San Luis Obispo’s possession, but the Tigers finished the few chances they had.
“We made them count,” Boscaro said. “We gave up a lot of possession to Santa Maria tonight, but when it came down to it, we were able to block their shots. Our goalkeeper (Sebastian Quintana) had a big game for us.”
Dolezal, now a junior, had two goals. And sophomore Moises Hernandez, a first-team all-PAC 8 selection last year, scored another on a penalty drawn by Dolezal.
“It’s his team now,” Boscaro said of Dolezal. “He’s a strong enough player to do that — to will this team to victories.”
The Tigers were missing several players against Santa Maria, but the experience from past seasons again paid dividends. Seniors Tristan Torres, Logan Axberg, Josh Brechwald and Eddie Smith were all all-PAC 8 selections last year.
“We needed everyone on our roster tonight, and it showed,” Boscaro said. “They stepped up. This was a big moment for our boys that don’t often see the field. For them to be out there and beat a good Santa Maria team, it says a lot about this program. We’re deep from No. 23 all the way to No. 1.”
The Tigers will next play host to Division I runner-up De La Salle at 4 p.m. Dec. 29.