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It was something the club itself kind of pushed aside; maybe they hadn’t wanted to jinx it.
“It was one of those things we didn’t want to focus on,” said Head Coach Ray Egan. “But, yes, to go unbeaten in a full season is gratifying. We were good this year. We had a couple of tight games, against OMBAC at home and Las Vegas away. They were good tests of our mental strength and our ability to finish things off. That certainly helped us, especially when we played Kansas City and had to close that game out.”
So an unbeaten season doesn’t mean an easy season. For Egan, it was certainly an education. The Irishman was in his first year with the club, and promises that it will not be his last. He has moved to Southern California, and expects to continue coaching. His decisions reflected that, as he was quick to work with Belmont Shore to shore up their youth and high school programs. He also promoted some youngsters, such as Mike Teo and Kameron Moeller, to key spots in the team.
Moreller is an especially interesting case. A local product, he was put in as the starting flyhalf, a move that flew in the face of the conventional wisdom among top clubs, which usually decide to bring in a season foreigner to play flyhalf. Instead, #10 went to an American kid.
“He’s a nice success story for us,” said Egan. “He is very capable, but of course needs to develop as well. The fact that he is home grown is a nice little bonus. I felt that a short-term fix wasn’t going to fix anything. I took a little heat early on, but basically said, he is going to be our #10. We’re going to make him work. He has good players behind him and around him.”
Egan said Moeller’s kicking game needed work early, but it has improved dramatically. And having him be the goalkicker in a national final was just the sort of pressure he needed to grow.
Moeller’s first-half grubber set up a try for Peter Sio, and that ability to read the game made the coach happy.
“We used the kick because that was the space they gace us; what I liked about our team was they were able to recognize that.”
That wasn’t just Moeller, it was the whole squad.
“I’m a skill-based coach and a player-based coach,” Egan said. “I didn’t want to go into a season where it was all about performance. I didn’t want to structure into a narrow minded set piece style of play. What I wanted to do was develop players’ individual skills so that 1 through 23, they made good decisions on the pitch; that they understood space and how to attack it.”
Egan wanted his players thinking on their feet.
“Our best performance on decision-making was in the final,” Egan said. “The players were analyzing where Glendale was going to attack us and adjusting. From where we came from which was very individual, to the way the team played in the final was very satisfying.”
There was also a lot of hard work. Glendale, reasonably, expected to see the coastal Belmont team wilt in the altitude in Colorado. They didn’t.
“Leading into the finals we worked our hardest,” said Egan. “For a week and a half we hadour hardest training sessions. We trained on the beach because I wanted to prepare the guys for the difficulty of playing there. We sapped their legs for two hours, and I think that was one of the things that stood us well in the end. We had a lot in the tank.”
Does Belmont Shore have a lot in the tank long-term? One might expect a few veterans to think about calling it quits after this championship, but Egan pushed for youngsters to come in. Up front Teo and Zach Fenoglio are very strong. He also can look to Jake Grubbs and Brice Schilling at prop. Ian Carpenter emerged as an excellent captain.
“One of the biggest things for us was the depth of our squad,” Egan said. “We had competition at every position. We had older players more established, but there were guys pushing them. Nobody wanted to be in the position of not performing.”
So it’s the culmination of a journey for Belmont Shore, but the start of a new journey, as well. The club is focusing on building from local talent, and Egan loves that approach. They are champions, but maybe that’s just the beginning.