CONCORD -- Back on Jan. 9, the De La Salle High soccer team found itself in a position that it had not been in that late in the season for many years -- under .500.
With teams like Monte Vista, Amador Valley, Berkeley and Pittsburg off to scorching starts, many thought this was the year that the Spartans, who were 3-4-3 after 10 games, would have their five-year reign as North Coast Section Division I champions come to an end.
"The work rate was missing early in the season," De La Salle coach Derricke Brown said. "There was a lack of focus and attention to detail as well. There was a point in early January when as a staff we told the players that if nothing else when you are on the field for training and matches, just run and work hard for the team. The soccer part of things would come as a result of a change in attitude.
"Something clicked from there and we didn't look back. Some of our best soccer was played in the last four matches. That is our goal every year."
That certainly happened as De La Salle allowed just one goal through the NCS playoffs, beating Monte Vista 2-1 in the championship match on March 1 for a sixth consecutive title. And though it may be hard for some to imagine, the sixth title feels just as good to the Spartans as the ones that came before it.
"This championship means the world to our program because this team had to establish its own identity," Brown said. "Our leaders had to learn on the job as there was a void after losing great players such as Nic Bob and Andrew Konstantino. It is also our 12th title as a program, sixth in row and that is something that we are very proud of."
The Spartans' program prides itself on something called "The Brotherhood," which means to play for your teammates, not for yourself, and to be accountable. De La Salle teams generally function as a family, which plays a large part in the success of the program.
"This group truly became a family," Brown said. "We had a rough start to the campaign and I give the young men all of the credit for finding a way to bond together to chase their dream of becoming champions. They were able to build trust in each other off the pitch and that trust and love fueled their competitive drive on the field."
Just like every group before it, the seniors are determined to leave the program in the shape they found it, and that is as NCS champions. And the underclassmen are determined to send the seniors out on a high note.
"Honestly, it's not about the streak," Brown said. "It's really about sending the senior class out on the right note. They are driven by that and also the fear of having their last high school soccer memory be something negative.
"DLS soccer is about our seniors and always has been. The underclassmen have to carry that burden every season and it is a very powerful source of motivation for them."