CV soccer coach Grant Clark reflects on the most school’s most dynamic season – yet.
By Timithie NORMAN
Since he began teaching Spanish at Crescenta Valley High School five years ago, first-year varsity soccer coach Grant Clark has also coached baseball and football. But after leading his team to a record-breaking 23-1-6 season (12-0-2 league) during which his team earned the Pacific League Championship, CIF Southern Section Division IV Championship for the first time in program history, and competed in the CIF Southern California Division I Regional Championship, he hopes to stick with soccer for the foreseeable future.
“I was kind of assigned to be a soccer coach,” Clark said. “They needed somebody and I was available, so the principal said, ‘You’re going to be the new JV soccer coach.’ It didn’t matter how hard I laughed, she still stuck me in there.”
Clark himself played youth soccer until the age of 12, and picked up the sport again informally while in Argentina in his early 20s.
“We would play with the kids in the street, but it wasn’t ever an organized thing,” he said. “Coaching was kinda rough in the beginning because I didn’t know a whole lot.”
Clark spent hours questioning players, fellow coaches, watching club team practices, and reading up on the sport, rules, and strategy. He relied on the wisdom of coaches gone before, including Kiel McClung, the head coach for the two years previous, his assistant Chris Ortiz, and club coach Reggie Rivas. He began to develop his knowledge of the game and his players through the CVHS summer soccer program and eventually built his own game strategy.
“I don’t think I can mold myself into one style because I still have so many holes in my understanding, but one of the things I feel very strongly about is that you have to be top-notch defensively,” Clark said. “If you can keep teams from scoring then that opens up a lot of opportunities for you on the offensive side.”
The strategy paid off, as the Falcons allowed just 19 goals in 30 matches to their 84. A dynamite defensive line led by senior sweeper Matt Schmutzer and anchored by senior goalkeeper Nick Ruiz, both recently named to the Pacific All-League First Team, stopped offensive attacks before shots were even fired. Paired with a strong offensive set in Pavle Atanackovic (39 goals), Alex Berger (10 goals, 29 assists), and Eric Trejo (10 goals, 11 assists) and the team was virtually unstoppable.
Even so, it wasn’t until the dramatic CIF Division IV Quarterfinals against Salesian that Clark thought the division championship might be a reality. Ruiz scored to tie the match and send it into overtime where Trejo scored the golden goal to send the team to the semifinal game.
“That’s when I felt like hey, this could really happen,” Clark said. “Before that, I tried to resist it. It’s superstition – I didn’t want to jinx it. But that’s when it started to become plausible.”
Clark’s wife Stacy and at least one of his four children attended nearly every one of his games. The support was crucial, especially as the intensity of game play mounted as playoffs went on.
“My wife said, ‘Whatever you need to do, you have my permission. If you need to stay out and watch game film, then do it,’” Clark recalled. “It’s nice to have that support at home. I know not all coaches have that same freedom.”
After such a successful season, Clark is excited to return to build the program next year. He says he will continue in his current position as head of the program as long as the administration will have him.
“It’s going to be interesting next year to see who takes leadership responsibilities,” Clark says of the returning players. “We have a lot of good players that will stay over from last year. But at the same time not everyone is a leader, not everyone has that quality.”
Yet it is clear that Clark has that quality. And based on the past season, there’s no doubt the Falcons will be back next year to compete once again.