Exactly one year ago Friday, the San Luis Obispo High boys soccer team and hundreds of others gathered at Holt Field to mourn the loss of Alex Maier, a 17-year-old senior who passed away one day earlier from injuries sustained in a car crash on his way home from a Tigers’ victory.
On the same field one year later, Maier’s teammates honored him the only way they knew how — with a hard-fought win.
Ty Cooper scored a pair of goals, including the game winner with 10 minutes remaining, to defeat visiting Atascadero 2-1 on a crisp January night filled with far more emotions than most midseason league games.
“Obviously, we think about him all the time,” said senior Ben Lindahl, who assisted on the game-winning goal. “He’s in our hearts.”
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Following player introductions, there was a 23-second moment of silence to remember Maier, who wore No. 23 and was one of the team’s leading goal scorers as a forward.
Coach James Boscaro said the Tigers held a lighthearted practice Thursday after an emotional locker-room discussion.
“(Thursday) was very draining for our boys … we went from tears to laughs to hugs,” he said. “Today was all about playing the game.
“It’s nice to have sports to get away from those types of things.”
Teammates, family and friends remembered Maier as a hard-working, high-energy player; the kind of play the Tigers (12-3-3, 6-2 PAC 7) showed from the opening kick.
“It’s just hard because nobody should pass away that young,” said Cooper, who played with Maier last season. “But, I don’t know — this is how we played with him, so it was just nice to get the win.”
Cooper put San Luis Obispo on the board midway through the first half, when the senior volleyed a sharp pass into the box by fellow senior Mo Morales.
“Ty is one of our go-to guys,” Boscaro said. “You want your goal scorers scoring, so that was a good spot on the field for us tonight.”
David Hernandez made several impressive saves for the Greyhounds (7-10-1, 1-6), including a barrage of four rapid shots from close range early in the second half to keep the score 1-0.
“He’s got to be one of the top goalkeepers in this league, and he proved it tonight,” Boscaro said. “If it wasn’t for him, that team wasn’t in the game.”
Atascadero tied the score soon after, when Lindahl miss-hit a clearing attempt and the ball cruelly bounced into his own net.
“I was looking to clear, but it took a bad bounce right before it got to me,” Lindahl said. “Sometimes, that stuff happens.”
But Lindahl redeemed himself when he sent a free kick three-quarters of the length of the field toward a sprinting Cooper. With a defender on each side, Cooper won the ball and slid it underneath Hernandez for the deciding tally.
“Their back line was pretty high, and I thought, why not send it?” Lindahl said. “I looked at Ty and he nodded his head. That was the signal.”
The goal was Cooper’s 14th of the season, good for second on the team.
“It’s nice to score,” the senior said. “I missed a couple sitters, though, so I know I can still get more.”
After dropping the final three games of the season last year in the wake of tragedy, the Tigers have used that emotion to power themselves toward a shot at a league title, trailing
Arroyo Grande and Pioneer Valley by one game.
“I can’t even pretend to know what these kids went through,” said Boscaro, who wore a yellow shirt with the No. 23 emblazoned on the back. “That’s in the back of their minds always. Our seniors were his teammates last year, and it’s on them to honor him the proper way — and that’s by winning.”