The Rancho Cotate Cougars capped off a difficult season with a narrow loss, 8-2, against the Petaluma Trojans last Wed., April 24 in their final home game of the year.
Staffing instability and low recruitment numbers plagued the Cougars since the start of the season—problems which contributed in no small part to the team’s 3-6 league record. The issues forced the Cougars to walk a long and rocky road, but all that was set aside as they pulled together and celebrated their annual Senior Night, honoring the nine teammates set to graduate come summer.
Of course the loss of those nine seniors is going to hurt next year, but not so much as one might think. Low turnout forced Rancho Cotate to fold its varsity and junior varsity teams together into one, which means that much of the Cougars’ lineup is freshmen and sophomores. Many of those players will return next year, bringing with them all the bonds they forged over their difficult season.
“They’ve really developed as a team. They’ve gotten closer,” Cougar assistant coach, Robert Buckley, said. “In my opinion that’s the best. I come from coaching football and that program has always been close—that’s what I want for these kids. Every year we do better and better with that.”
Right from the outset, the Trojans dominate the field. They stole an early lead in the first quarter and then built on it through the rest of the game thanks to the combined efforts of their forwards, Dominic Butts and Sebastian Gonzales. Butts and Gonzales placed an inordinate level of pressure on the Cougars’ defensive line, which left their offense little opportunity to move the respond in kind.
The rough going enraged Cougars’ forward Dimitri Johnson. Johnson is a big kid, and the frustration from his team’s lack of progress was clearly visible to anyone on the field. He grew aggressive, smashing into the Trojans like one-man wrecking ball. The sudden change caught the Trojans by surprise. Johnson barreled his way into the Trojans’ defensive net and flung the ball into the goal, passing by their goalie in a blur.
But rage is like fire. It eventually cost Johnson a penalty in the third quarter after he illegally body-checked a Trojan defender.
“Most of our offense last year left. We went through a rebuilding process. At the start I wouldn’t say we had a bond, but now at the end? We’re like brothers now. We’ll stick up for each other until the very end,” Johnson said.
While Johnson was the first to get his team onto the board, he wasn’t the last. That honor belonged to Cougars’ senior Connor Barbato.
Due to a number of personal reasons, Barbato joined the Cougars late in the season, and as such his role was limited in the Cougars’ final home game of the season to the initial faceoff after a goal. Yet in this case that was all the time Barbato needed. He ripped possession away from his opponent and barreled deep into Trojan territory.
The sudden offensive caught the Trojans by surprise. They scrambled to stop him, but Barbato noticed a gap. He flung the ball from just outside the goal box. It sailed clean through the defensive and past the goalie’s net.
“It’s my last time on this field,” Barbato said. “It’s tough. I’ve been playing lacrosse since fourth, fifth grade. I’m going to miss these guys.”
But Barbato and Johnson weren’t enough to right the game’s trajectory. The Trojans built on their lead through the fourth quarter and ended the game significantly ahead.
“We’re going to return a lot of players next year that have varsity experience. There’s a lot of young players on key positions,” Cougar assistant coach, Jerry Kumre, said. “This program is in a position to grow. We know where the bar is and that’s what we’re going after.”