‘It all came together at the right time’: Point Loma High boys soccer team recounts magical championship run
Led by eventual Coach of the Year Elliott Savitz, the Pointers went from last in their league to the top of their divisions in the CIF San Diego Section and Southern California Regional playoffs — all in a few weeks.
The Point Loma High School varsity boys soccer team had a rocky regular season. A six-game losing streak, compounded largely by player injuries and sickness, landed the team in last place in the Western League. So how did the Pointers manage to pull off two CIF championships in the postseason?
A key component to the turnaround: head coach Elliott Savitz, who ended up being named Coach of the Year in boys soccer in CIF’s San Diego Section.
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“This was my 12th season with Point Loma,” said Savitz, who previously coached for the Albion Soccer Club for about a decade and was an assistant coach at La Jolla High School for two years.
This season’s Pointers were pieced together with an inherent disadvantage. Seventeen players from the previous season had not returned, carving deep into the team’s established chemistry.
“Putting together the team this year was a little difficult at first,” Savitz recalled. “Everyone was trying to get used to one another.”
Goalkeeper Owen Purvis, a junior, said the lack of familiarity proved to be a hurdle at the start.
“Some of us played JV together, but this was a whole other level,” Owen said. “A lot of us played club [soccer] together, and there were other kids who played for the same club. It just took awhile to get used to each other. The chemistry wasn’t there the first few games. For defense, I can say we weren’t on the same page the full game, which cost us a couple of times.”
In the regular season, against a schedule of highly competitive teams, the Pointers went 1-6-1 in league play.
“We were doing fairly well right until the second game of league play,” Savitz said. “We got a whole bunch of injuries. We beat Cathedral [Catholic] in our first game in league, and then kids were getting sick and hurt and that took us on a six-game losing streak. Even then, we weren’t losing those games by wide margins. We were just a little short because of injuries and sickness.”
Junior Ethan Denney, a striker for Point Loma, said “it was my first year on varsity and our goalkeeper was out, we couldn’t score goals. We were playing all right, but we just couldn’t find wins.”
The turnaround came toward the end of the season as the team began to bloom into its full potential. Tapping into the chemistry and foundation of players’ experience in junior varsity, Savitz fostered a deeper cohesion among the players and pushed them to another level.
“Most of them knew each other from playing JV the year before, so I definitely benefited from the team chemistry they had already developed,” said Savitz, who off the field is a social-sciences teacher and AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) coordinator at Point Loma High. “I got to benefit from our junior varsity coach’s [Hector Lopez] expertise in putting together a good team. I think the challenge for me was to get them ... playing faster and getting along with one another.”
In addition to its practices and other routines on the field, Savitz said the team spent time having meals together, watching game film and participating in as many activities as possible to get the boys chatting with one another.
“We worked on our defense, and right before CIF, we started working on our attacking plays, which is when we actually started scoring goals,” Ethan said. “It all came together at the right time.”
“He believed in us and he was focused for the next game. He knows what to do from a coaching standpoint. He was able to figure out everything that we needed to figure out.”
— Goalkeeper Owen Purvis, referring to head coach Elliott Savitz
Heading into the CIF San Diego Section Division I playoffs Feb. 15, the Pointers had tapped into their power. They handily defeated Escondido 6-1 in the first round.
After the injuries and the tough season they had endured, that victory boosted the players’ confidence, Savitz said.
It was the beginning of a remarkable seven-game run.
Going into the next round against Coronado three days later, “we were preparing for it as if it was the CIF final,” Savitz said.
Two of the Pointers’ losses during their six-game losing streak were to Coronado. “They have a very talented team and a good coach, [and] Coronado is a very difficult place to play,” Savitz said.
“We thought this could be our last game playing and we just gave it our all,” Owen recalled.
After regulation time ended in a scoreless tie, the teams squared off in a shootout. After five rounds of the shootout, the teams remained tied. Owen then recognized the striker who was opposite him for the next shot.
“Earlier when we played them in our league, the guy who shot against me that day had made a penalty kick,” Owen said. “He shot it to my bottom right, and most kids shoot in the same spot, so I saw it coming.”
Owen stopped the shot, and the next shot by Point Loma found its way to the back of the Coronado net, ending the match with a victory for the Pointers.
Point Loma went on to the semifinals to beat Torrey Pines 1-0, and on Feb. 25 secured the Division I title against Sweetwater 3-0.
The team that finished last in its league during the regular season carried its postseason momentum to the CIF Southern California Regional Division III tournament, where the Pointers posted three more wins. The capper was a 3-2 victory over El Dorado of Placentia on March 4 to win the championship.
“I think more than anything, winning that CIF title is going to improve our team and the individuals. They’re gonna play with that much more confidence next year, and I think that will be exciting to see.”
— Elliott Savitz, Point Loma varsity boys soccer head coach
Owen said Savitz is different from other coaches he’s played for.
“He believed in us and he was focused for the next game,” Owen said. “He knows what to do from a coaching standpoint. He was able to figure out everything that we needed to figure out. We all learned from our mistakes, putting players in different positions.”
Owen ended the season making first-team All-CIF in the San Diego Section, and teammate Cooper Rohnow made second team.
Savitz said the feeling of this season’s accomplishment is incredible, both for himself and his team, but he’s now looking to build off it for the future.
“I think more than anything, winning that CIF title is going to improve our team and the individuals,” Savtiz said. “They’re gonna play with that much more confidence next year, and I think that will be exciting to see. Since it was the first year at varsity level for 17 of the 20 guys we had on the squad, I think that’s just going to increase their desire to do better next year.
“I think this group is very competitive and they work really hard. With those characteristics and with that new confidence, I think there will be high expectations.”