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High school soccer: Small-school Knights coming up big

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Getting good results playing a difficult early schedule, Roseland University Prep is a budding Empire small school boys’ soccer power.

With a determined defense that has three shutouts in its first seven games and an improving offense, Roseland Prep has started strong in a season that should produce another North Coast Section playoff appearance. A playoff participant six straight years, the Knights want to make a deep postseason run.

“Our success is no surprise. We’re working very hard,” said forward Michael Iturbe.

Playing another large school opponent on the road today, in Windsor, the Knights look to improve on a 5-1-1 record.

One of the season’s highlights was finishing third in the 16-team Bay City Invitational tournament. The Santa Rosa classic featured some of Northern California’s top teams. Roseland Prep was the smallest school.

“We’ve put together a pretty good preseason. We just want to play tough teams and get better,” said Roseland Prep coach Tino Fonzeca.

Returning seven starters, Roseland Prep is deep and skilled. Iturbe leads the team from the midfield and fellow senior Rodrigo Estrella anchors the defensive back line. A pair of sophomores returns to help push the pace, defender Alex Morales and forward Adolfo Morales.

Newcomer Jose Ramirez has given more life to Roseland Prep’s offense, which is averaging two goals a game.

“We try to possess the ball and pick and choose on attacks,” Fonzeca said. “They’re learning. The seniors are being leaders and the freshmen and sophomores are buying in.”

Roseland Prep often takes the field with four forwards, two midfielders and four backs.

On attack, the Knights like defenders to bring the ball up the side and open up the middle with strong passes. Switching the ball across the field and making extra passes typically puts balls on the feet of open shooters.

“That allows us to attack from either side. The first touch is key,” Fonzeca said.

With nine goals in the past three contests, Roseland Prep is becoming more dangerous with the ball.

Defense has been a strength from the start. Despite giving away some size on the back line, Roseland Prep is quick and rarely gets beat on the Knights’ half of the field.

“We are ahead of schedule the way we’ve played so far,” Fonzeca said.

Roseland Prep needs to be in strong form entering North Central League II play. The small school league features always tough Anderson Valley and Calistoga, as well as an improved St. Vincent squad.

“The league will be competitive from top to bottom,” Fonzeca said.

“It has been like this for the last couple of years.”

While making the section playoffs is one goal, Roseland Prep players want to be among the last teams standing.

The Knights recognize they must work to get better at every position.

“We’ve got a squad that’s dedicated and wants to win,” Iturbe said.

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike.coit@pressdemocrat.com.