RIVERBANK — Martin Gonzales had a rebuilding job ahead of him when he took over the Riverbank High soccer program eight years ago.
The Bruins had won a Sac-Joaquin Section title in 2000, the previous year, but lost some talented kids when Waterford High opened in 2001.
"About half the kids in the program went over to Waterford, and I remember having three (experienced) players for our first practice," Gonzales said. "It took a few years, but we've got the program back to where it used to be."
The Bruins have made the playoffs the last five years, and have won back-to-back Trans-Valley League titles.
That success is an athletic beacon on a campus struggling in many other sports.
"We have a strong JV program that is like a farm team for the varsity," he said. "The kids come in ready to play."
Not all Gonzales' kids have come up through the ranks.
Co-captain Carlos Harvey, a junior sweeper and the TVL MVP, was on the varsity as a freshman and earned a starting spot his sophomore year.
"He's the anchor of our defense, and the best part is I have him for another year," said Gonzales, who will have plenty of other holes to fill.
He loses four all-leaguer players:
Juan Harvey, an outside right midfielder whose solid crossing passes often find attackers in front of the goal.
Nasr Alsumeri, a center midfielder and an "Energizer Bunny," Gonzales said. "He never stops and never quits. The other teams are always cognizant of him. If they are not, he'll take the ball away."
Hugo Calderon, a 6-foot-1, 235-pound goalie. "The best best big man I have coached in all my years," Gonzales said. "If you don't think he can get to the ball, that will be your first and last mistake as an attacking player."
Ricardo Vigil, who Gonzales says is a "silent assassin. He doesn't say much on or off the field, but you will be talking about him after he breaks three or four defenders down and scores with either foot."