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As the sky began to darken, the floodlights kept the grass field illuminated. The night brought a chilly breeze. Players kept warm and ready by moving and passing the ball amongst each other. Players from both Las Positas and the Bay Valley Suns huddled near their coaches, getting last-minute instructions. 

Then, calmly, they marched to their positions on the field, setting up the teams’ shape. The ref’s whistle broke the ambient background noise of the sparse stands at Las Positas’s field. The ball was kicked into motion. Hawks soccer was back. 

Except it isn’t. 

The intensity of a normal match was absent. The score was being kept, yet an afterthought. This felt less like a pivotal showdown and more like a preseason scrimmage. In a sense, it was.

“It’s all about development,” said Andrew Cumbo, head coach of both the men’s and women’s programs. “There are official referees, we wear official uniforms, we are aware of the score, but there’s no official standings or power ranking or playoffs or anything like that.” 

After nearly four months, both the men’s and women’s soccer teams have kicked off their non-traditional seasons (NTS). The first match for the men’s team was home on March 12. The women opened March 15 in Modesto. Combined, the teams scheduled 10 games over a month and a half, the final game being a men’s home match against Chabot on May 10.

The results of the games hold no merit. There’s nothing to play for. So why are the Hawks back to playing soccer?

The non-traditional season does offer the Hawks some advantages. Primarily, it allows them to match up with four-year schools, giving the Hawks a chance to see how they stack up against better competition while preparing for the next fall. One of these opponents on the men’s side is NAIA powerhouse Menlo College, which plays in Division II. For the players hoping to get to the next level, it also provides a chance to impress those higher-level coaches. 

For Cumbo, this period of the year is important. It gives him a chance to see his team back on the field against a competitor, grow his younger players, while also keeping his players’ mentality at a high level.

“We always try to play four-year schools,” Cumbo said. “And we do that to get our players in front of those four-year coaches, competing against those higher level players, because for most of them their goal is to go to a four-year.”

“As a coach,” Cumbo added, “you get some flexibility. Maybe there’s some freshmen that didn’t play much in the fall, so now there’s a chance to develop them a bit.” 

Both the men’s and women’s teams placed third in their respective Conferences this past fall. The men’s team finished with a 13-8-2 overall record, while the women finished 13-4-6 — good enough for both units to make the NorCal Regionals. Both teams, however, lost in the first round. The Hawks men lost 3-0 to third-seeded West Valley and the Hawks women lost 1-0 to seventh-seeded Santa Rosa.

On April 13, the Hawks will hit the road to Menlo College and face a quality Division II men’s soccer program. (Photo by Sydney Breckenridge/The Express)

Cumbo has made sure to keep his squads fit during the spring semester, with both teams practicing four times a week during the spring term. Now the non-traditional season provides the opportunity for the Hawks to get their game legs back.

“Our offseason, the conditioning four days a week really helps them with their fitness,” Cumbo said. “But in addition to that, just as important or more, is the mental aspect of having a routine, a regular schedule. Having the discipline in their schedule and their life, from my experience, helps players in the offseason too.”

The Bay Valley Suns, the men’s first opponent of the NTS, was a semi-pro team. On the women’s side, they are scheduled to face off against two Division II opponents in Dominican University and Academy of Art University, both of which play in the PacWest Conference.

While the higher level of play doesn’t result in many wins during this period, NTS still does its job of preparing the teams. 

“I’ve had two springs with the women’s team where we didn’t win any games in NTS,” Cumbo said. “One (of those years) we went undefeated in league and won the Conference Championship. So the importance of getting in front of better competition and getting adjusted and trying to get that exposure, that has only helped us in our development for the following season.”

Top photo: Stefan Zanatti (No. 11) defends a header against Lincoln University. (Photo by Sydney Breckenridge/ The Express)

Jakob Arnarsson is the Sports Editor of The Express. Follow him on X, formally Twitter, @JakobA2004.

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