SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Twenty years ago the Santa Clara's men's soccer team began the season hoping for the best and ended up with the school's first NCAA Championship - a feat the Broncos are celebrating this season. With one of the sweepers from that team now in his eighth year at the helm, Bronco head coach Cam Rast leads Santa Clara into the 2009 opener vs. UC Irvine on Tues., Sept. 1 at Buck Shaw Stadium at 7 pm. SCU looks to clinch its 19th NCAA Tournament bid this season.
Rast, who was also a member of the 1991 NCAA Championship final team, is joined again this season on the sidelines by associate head coach Eric Yamamoto (19th year with the Broncos), assistant coach Rusty Johnson (7th year with the Broncos) and volunteer coach Jeff Baicher (2nd year with the Broncos). Both Yamamoto and Baicher were teammates of Rast's at SCU.
In the following interview Rast talks about what he likes about this year's team, why Santa Clara is a fantastic school with the support and facilities both athletically and academically and what he hopes for on the field this season.
SCU: UC Irvine comes in on Tuesday, September 1 for a 7 pm match at Buck Shaw Stadium. Is your team ready for this match?
RAST: We have had a really good preseason and a lot of guys have bought into our system. We have a great energy with our team. The upperclassmen are really anxious to get back to a season that counts, on the record, so we can get back to doing the things we like to do best. We want to play great soccer, dictate the flow and look to win a lot of games.
SCU: What was your focus in the preseason with the men's soccer team?
RAST: Our focus has had to be that we had to get ourselves organized with a lot of the new guys. We have a very talented freshmen group and when you couple that with a good spring and a good sophomore and junior class and a couple solid returning seniors, we had to be able to integrate and get everybody on the same page. We spent most of our spring getting the guys who were here getting on the same page and committed to the style of play we really want; and in the fall we've been trying to integrate the new guys. It's been a group effort to help us play a style that I think will help us be successful.
SCU: Do you know what your strength will be yet or is that going to take a couple of matches to figure out?
RAST: I think early in the season we have some real question marks until we can put it into action against some good opponents. We have to figure out if we are going to be super-good defensively or score a lot of goals. I think this team has potential to do both. I think we have some very exciting players that love to go to the goal. We will need to also see if we can expose the defense and score. On the same hand, we have some tremendous defenders that as long as we stay organized they are going to do a great job. In the end, I think it will truly be us being organized, us being on the same page with one another so that our team shape and team commitment is all focused on the same thing. If we can do that, I think we are going to have a very good group this year.
SCU: Coaches like to say `it's about what we do and not about what they do - the opponents'. Do you subscribe to that theory?
RAST: I want to empower our guys. If you look at why coaches stay that - they really say `it's what we do' - any team that can dictate the flow of the game and dictate their style of play, they more likely to have the success they want because they are able to dictate what goes on in the game. I would love to think our guys, if we can empower them to be able to do what we want, are going to have success. We have a good formula f or them.
SCU: Would it be fair to say you are in a re-building year?
RAST: For us, I would say it's got the makings of a rebuilding year because we have a large group of underclassmen and a smaller group of upperclassmen. That's not so uncommon in many teams, but I don't really look at it as a rebuilding year. Every year is a year to go and play for it. I think those are the years that surprise you - when you think `we have to really build it up' - those years can be the most special years in terms of really achieving great success and overachieving in terms of expectations. We hope to have one of those types of years this year. But sure it's going to be a year where we are going to try to continue to improve a lot and learn a lot; and really come together as a group. If we can do those things, who knows where we'll end up.
SCU: This week you went down to Santa Cruz and had an afternoon of bonding on the beach. What did your team take away from that? How helpful is that as the season progresses?
RAST: No question when you have a hard pre-season you are so focused that you can actually get mentally tired. You can get very stale. It's so important when teams have time together when they are off the field and enjoy each other's company. We wanted to take an afternoon to do that kind of thing. We have an alum down in Santa Cruz who has a great house that overlooks the water and we had a great bar-b-que, spending quality time together. We were able to walk to the beach; and the guys immediately jumped into a six-man football game with each other. Some of the guys also got in the water and bodysurfed. The weather was fabulous. We buried a couple guys in the sand which was so hilarious. It was just fun to have some good laughs and break the tension with a good time together to break the toughness of pre-season. It was all capped off with a card tournament. We will crown a champion in that this weekend and so someone will have bragging rights. It was just good for us to spend some time together away from the game. We have a good bunch of guys.
SCU: What excites you most about this season?
RAST: I am really enjoying all of the guys. I am really enjoying how committed they are to try and play for each other; and how they are trying to figure out the best team we can be. They are taking the information we have and putting a ton of effort and commitment to get better. We are just a little bit young, but we are learning every day and if we can continue to do that, who knows what the potential will be. In the end it's going to be what we do on the field and performance. I can say I feel good about it. They have all committed to each other and they are trying to do what we are asking. Hopefully we will be able to execute on the things we have trained on so we are successful.
SCU: You have a young team. We have a new library, new business school, new aquatics facility and a new training facility for the soccer teams, including the upgrades to Buck Shaw Stadium. How has the helped with recruiting to have those types of facilities on campus now?
RAST: There isn't a campus in the country that is nicer than Santa Clara right now. We are very fortunate that we have a university that continually looks and evaluates itself to say `how can we serve the students better?'
Anyone who is looking for a quality education - you are going to find that in the new $40 million business building and the new $100 million Learning Commons. And then when you go out to the soccer fields and you see we have a brand-new updated stadium, with a brand-new field and upgraded video scoreboard; and a world-class training facility that is lit so we can train at anytime we want.
When you add the academic and the athletic sides together, we here at Santa Clara sit in a very unique place because very few teams in the country have all of this. Add to that, we are in an area of the country that is known for being a hub of bio-tech, technology, finance, arts and entertainment. We are very fortunate to have the commitment from the university to have all those things. Quite honestly, a lot of times it's an easy sell.
SCU: So, if you get a recruit on campus and they see all Santa Clara has to offer, they are ready to sign right?
RAST: I wish it was that easy. There is a cost to go to school here and that is one of our bigger challenges. In addition, there is the academic standard that kids have to meet. If we can solve those two problems, that is our toughest recruiting problem. Beyond that, we do a pretty good job of putting a good foot forward as to what we offer and the students are looking for - it then becomes a pretty easy sell.
SCU: The Santa Clara program has been to the NCAA Tournament 18 times, including five of the last six years. This year Santa Clara is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the school's first NCAA Championship - the 1989 team you, Associate Head Coach Eric Yamamoto and Volunteer Coach Jeff Baitcher all played on. Since then, the Broncos have played in four additional College Cups.
The men's program celebrates the 20th anniversary and that team vs. Sacramento State on Sunday, Sept. 13 at 7 pm. What does that anniversary mean to you personally; and what should people expect that night at the game.
RAST: Of course 1989 was a really special year for Santa Clara, particularly the soccer programs, especially the men's program. It was our first championship at Santa Clara, although we shared it with Virginia (a 1-1 tie in the title game). We were the last team to go undefeated during the season and be the consensus No. 1. It was a very special year. We are absolutely dynamic and attacking. We gave away very few goals and very few teams even got changes to score goals on us. We were able to put something together that really hasn't been duplicated on that side of it. It really helped both Santa Clara's men's and women's teams emerge in terms of national soccer powers. It's something we still talk about to this day.
We will bring the team back on Sept. 12 for a banquet and then they will be honored on Sept. 13 at the Sacramento State game that night. To bring all that time back for us is truly going to be a great mark for us to remember, reflect and hopefully encourage us to go forward. We would love to go forward and bring more championships to Santa Clara on both sides. We want to bring the focus back to the university and celebrate more titles.