After moving up from the Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division this season, the last thing the San Mateo boys’ soccer team was expected to do was challenge for the Bay Division title.
But with only two weeks of league play remaining, the Bearcats sit right in the hunt for that elusive championship.
“It’s definitely surprising. Every time we’ve gone up, we’ve gone down,” San Mateo coach Chuck Callaghan said. “We’ve always struggled to compete in the Bay. The fact that we’re not only competing, but competing for first place is definitely surprising. It’s an incredible accomplishment for these players.”
The Bearcats entered today’s match at 12-2-2 overall, 7-2-1 in the PAL Bay Division after losing to first-place Menlo-Atherton 2-0 on Monday.
San Mateo has not been able to keep itself in the Bay Division for longer than a season recently, always having to drop down a division after a poor campaign.
But San Mateo stamped its place as a Bay contender this season when it knocked off defending co-
champion Burlingame on Jan. 6.
“Burlingame was our first game and we beat them, but after that I don’t think we caught anyone off guard,” said Callaghan, who is in his second year as coach. “I think the season’s gone great so far.”
The transition has been made smoother with nearly all of the Bearcats’ starters returning this season, carried by a group of senior leaders.
First-team all-leaguers Angel Mejia and Steffan Voges returned, along with Benny Angeles and Andrew Kwoka.
“That’s one of the reasons we’re a strong team this year,” Callaghan said. “They know what I want them to do on the field.”
The team’s camaraderie has also played a big part in the Bearcats’ success as it has translated onto the field, according to Callaghan.
“They’re friends as well as teammates. That helps us to play a smart, team-oriented game,” he said.
San Mateo returned a total of five all-league players from its team a year ago.
But San Mateo still has four matches to go, and will continue to rely on its defense, which it has much of the season.
“Our defense was been extraordinary. We’ve basically been shutting teams out,” Callaghan said. “[Our success] starts with our defensive play.”