By Steve Schaffer
Before Raul Yepez ’13 was the team’s top scorer and Ivan Sanchez ’14 was all-SCIAC, before the two of them enticed Miguel Silva ’14, a goalkeeper, to transfer from Oxnard College, before they helped to lead Kingsmen soccer to a league championship, and before each one graduated from Cal Lutheran – before all of that, the three shared an unusual, lifelong bond. They had been teammates as 5-year-olds and played youth soccer together for years. They all went to different high schools but stayed in touch.
Silva recalls his first game starting as keeper for the Kingsmen. “They were announcing the starting lineups. They say my name, then Raul’s then Ivan’s. I looked down and thought, ‘Hey, this is pretty cool, all the Oxnard guys are here.’”
If that moment in 2012 felt a little like fate for the three friends, imagine their surprise when they were reminded that they had all played side by side in CLU gear before, more than a decade earlier. That history was also news to head coach Dan Kuntz, who had recruited them.
“We were at the tail end of a 6 a.m. training session before the season,” Kuntz recalls, “and Miguel comes over to me and says. ‘Coach I want to show you something. I want to show you this picture.’”
When Kuntz took a second look at the old team photo, taken when his players were about 8 years old, he noticed something extraordinary. The team members sported oversized purple jerseys that the Kingsmen had worn in years past.
“Does that say CLU on your jerseys?”
Indeed it did, thanks to Silva’s father, who coached the Alianza youth team and who picked up the jerseys at the thrift shop where he worked at that time.
Today, the photo is a reminder of how unlikely it was that Cal Lutheran would end up redirecting the life trajectories of all three young men. Each one is the first member of his family to attend college.
Yepez nearly left the country to play professionally in Mexico, before Kuntz convinced him to visit the campus. So instead, after leading the Kingsmen in goals for two consecutive seasons, he graduated last year with a double major in business and accounting and works for an Oxnard business as an accountant.
Sanchez also wanted to play professionally before he discovered how closely Cal Lutheran’s mathematics major aligned with his interests. The former all-SCIAC defensive player said he will work as a substitute teacher while he plans his next step.
“There were a lot of moments of seeing where we started, where we came from, and where we are now that I took pride in,” he said.
Silva, the last one to arrive at CLU, also just graduated with a degree in exercise science and plans to become a physical therapist.
When all three came on board, the lifelong teammates gave the Kingsmen a boost. Having won just three games in each of the 2010 and 2011 seasons, the team saw its hard work culminate in 2013 as Cal Lutheran earned the third seed in the SCIAC Post Season Tournament. From there, the Kingsmen upset No. 2 Whittier in the semifinals and then captured their first-ever Post Season Tournament title by beating Chapman 1-0 in overtime.
“To see three young boys who somehow came from that little team – somehow had God’s connection to this CLU thing and then ended up at the same university – graduating all within a year of each other, to me that is the most rewarding thing you could ever see as a coach,” Kuntz said. “But also I think these are the kind of stories that are all over this university.”