Lake Tahoe CC men’s soccer starts postseason run under direction of Arbelaez, faces Lassen in opener
CCCAA First Round
(5) Lake Tahoe vs. (12) Lassen
Saturday, 2 p.m. at LTCC
Tickets: $12 adults, $8 students, faculty/staff, seniors, kids under 12
As the Lake Tahoe Community College men’s soccer team begins its quest for a CCCAA championship, the program is starting a new chapter. The Coyotes open the NorCal Regional playoffs on Saturday, Nov. 21, pursuing their ultimate goal under new direction.
“This group’s resilience is absolutely unbelievable,” Coyotes head coach Nick Arbelaez said. “The boys were able to turn the page and they are more focused — we’re very confident going in.”
LTCC closed out the regular season with Nick Arbelaez as head coach for its last two games. Arbelaez, who joined the Coyotes as an assistant before the season, replaced Ben Wade — after a season-plus as Lake Tahoe’s head coach, a series of events led to Wade resigning last week.
“He means a lot to the players because he brought us here to get an education and play soccer,” Coyotes sophomore Carlos Trujeque said of Wade. “Him leaving the way he did was a test for the team — we struggled that day when it hit us, but we all got together and decided we were going to finish our season strong.”
With Arbeleaz at the helm, the Coyotes moved forward with victories over College of the Redwoods and Shasta College. LTCC’s 6-0 win over Shasta on Friday, Nov. 13, coupled with a loss by Feather River College helped the team achieve its initial objective, winning a second straight Golden Valley Conference championship.
“Winning conference just makes us stronger and it makes us come together,” Coyotes sophomore Cameron McConachie said. “We all believe we can go all the way now — that’s the plan.”
Lake Tahoe finished the season nationally ranked, and earned the fifth seed in the NorCal Regional playoffs. The Coyotes (15-4-2) open the postseason at home Saturday at 2 p.m. against a familiar opponent — conference foe Lassen College (14-4-2).
“They know us, we know them and we know how they play,” said Trujeque, who won the conference’s Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year awards. “It’s playoffs, it’s a different mindset and our team is mentally stronger. We’re going to win Saturday — it doesn’t matter that we’ve played them three times already.”
Saturday’s match will mark the fourth meeting this season between the Coyotes and 12th-seeded Cougars. Lake Tahoe won a non-conference meeting between the teams 4-0 on Sept. 21, the teams played to a scoreless draw in Susanville, California, eight days later, and the Coyotes took the second conference matchup 3-2 at home on Oct. 27.
“We’re not changing our strategy, but it’s a demonstration of the maturity of the team,” Coyotes assistant coach Al Frangione said. “The team itself is playing at a higher level — in a way it’s a blessing to play them multiple times because we have a gauge that we would not normally have.”
But he added, “We didn’t expect it.”
The winner of Saturday’s first round contest will meet the winner between fourth-seeded Santa Rosa Junior College (Calif.) and 13th-seeded Mendocino College (Ukiah, Calif.) in the second round on Nov. 24 or 25. LTCC has played seven of the 14 teams in the NorCal bracket, finishing 6-3-1 in those contests.
“These boys have all played in big games, whether internationally or domestically, and there’s a sense of urgency right now,” Arbelaez said. “They don’t play as if this is their job — it’s fun and we want results at the same time — but lately, it’s been more businesslike in between the lines.”
The Coyotes have the state’s deepest team, and spent a majority of the season finding the best fit and formation for its players. Entering the postseason, Lake Tahoe has a set starting 11 — but plans to use its bench as a weapon against opposing teams.
“The pieces have all come together,” Coyotes sophomore Ivan Rodriguez said. “We moved a lot of people around in the beginning, but they’re all in the right positions — it was hard to blend in the beginning, but we’ve done well.”
Lake Tahoe made no secret about its goal to finish atop the state in 2015, and everything the team has done this season has been centered on that objective. That includes morning practices — recently moved up a half-hour to 5:30 a.m. — where Frangione pushes players physically and mentally.
“It’s all done on purpose to help them understand how pain feels and how you can learn to go from boys to men,” Frangione said. “We have a very dominating location. It’s something we want to leverage and it matters to us.”
Four now wins separate the Coyotes from the CCCAA championship, and they look to capture the crown after a second round exit in their inaugural season. Even under new guidance, the direction remains the same at LTCC.
“Coach Wade’s DNA is right here in this team this year,” Frangione said. “The players get to choose how they want to write the ending to this story.”