Sonoma State is one of the eight MCLA Division I teams to have a national title to its credit -- the Seawolves snagged the 2002 crown -- and is one of eight programs to make multiple visits to the championship game (they lost to UC Santa Barbara in '05). Alas, 'Noma has missed the last two national tournaments and is itching to get back.
Is this the year the Seawolves return to the top of the heap? MCLA.us talks to Sonoma coach Panchito Ojeda for a round of "5 Questions."
MCLA: Your defense won a lot of games for you last year, but it looks like your attack returns intact. Will Sonoma be more of a high-scoring outfit this spring?
PO: In Sonoma State's seasons that have been the most successful, it has been anchored by a strong defense. This year we will continue to have that as our main focus. We have a new defensive coordinator, Garret Satterwhite, who has brought some great knowledge to our defensive game plan. With that said, we have not ignored the fact we return a majority of our points from last year and have added a few key pieces in recruiting and player development. I think our offense will be multi-dimensional this year, with many different players capable of putting the ball in the back of the net.
MCLA: The last time we saw the Seawolves, they lost to Stanford – a team Sonoma easily beat in the regular season – by a goal in the WCLL semifinals. Has that loss been a motivator for the student-athletes and staff during the offseason, or will you leave that result in ’15?
PO: Anytime your season is ended in overtime, you are going to think about it. A lot. However, that loss is going to be left in 2015. Our goals cannot be focused around one loss, but rather the goals we have for this year. We are looking forward to competing with the other teams in the WCLL this year as we strive to win a WCLL title.
MCLA: Who are some under-the-radar guys we should keep an eye in 2016?
PO: We have some great players on our squad in 2016. The obvious names of [Brad] Bochesa, [Michael] Tomita and [Zachary] Swinford will be known by many. Some players who I believe will be impact players who might not be as well-known are FOGO Cooper Urbany. He was our backup faceoff player to Nic Scaramella in 2015. He has worked on his craft in the offseason and came back looking strong this fall. With some continued work and improvement, I think he could be one of the best face-off players in the WCLL.
Long-stick middie Jack Becker is another player. It’s hard to think a player who started for us last year as going under-the-radar guy, but he is. He didn’t get all-conference last year and he has been working to prove people wrong. He is dynamite on defense and a two-way threat. He had one of our final two goals against Stanford in 2015. Finally, attackman Angelo Lagomarsino will be just a freshman in ‘16, but he is going to be an impact player right away. He has incredible vision, and a knack for finding twine. He is going to be difficult to game plan around when you still have to guard the likes of Swinford and Bochesa. I expect Angelo to compete at a high level in 2016. There are a number of other players who have made great strides over the summer. Ee will see a lot of new faces on the stat sheet in 2016.
MCLA: The WCLL sent a pair of teams to the MCLA National Championships powered by Under Armour in 2015. Do you envision the conference being strong enough to do the same in '16? What will be Sonoma’s key non-conference contests?
PO: Yes, I expect our conference to be able to send two teams again. I am certain the teams in our conference have done their due diligence in scheduling and are facing stiff competition by which to be measured. I know when we get to conference play we will all be prepared, as any one of the eight Division I teams could win the WCLL this year.
Our out-of-conference schedule is highlighted by games with Chapman, UC Santa Barbara, Colorado State, Simon Fraser and Oregon State – all Top 25 teams from last year. We love to have schedules that are challenging and wrought with games against teams who will be at the national tournament. No better way to prepare for May!
MCLA: It’s been two years since the Seawolves were last at nationals. With the amount of talent returning, is there an urgency amid the program this year to get back there?
PO: Urgency would be the wrong word. This year, like every year, our goal is to get to the WCLL playoffs and win a WCLL title. We are hungry to prepare and do the work to put us in position to win a WCLL title and compete for a MCLA National Championship.