Cottage Grove boys head soccer coach Vern Stewart knows that the world of sports is about far more than winning and losing. To reach sustained success, a school must develop a program — not just a team — that provides a sense of culture, direction and instruction reaching beyond the events on the field.
On Wednesday, Nov. 20 at the team’s end-of-season ceremony in the CGHS library, cake was devoured, beverages drank, awards handed out and a host of parents, siblings and friends came out to celebrate a successful 2019 campaign for the Lions.
There was little talk of wins, losses or overall team record. It was an evening meant to honor a single season, the accomplishments of a particular group of young men, yet the main theme was one of team culture and the program that Stewart has been instrumental in building.
“I’ve had a lot of different teams,” Stewart said to the room of proud Grovers. “When we first began the program, we were fortunate to keep the score below double figures, and I’m not talking about what we scored, but what the other team scored. If we were able to lose 9-0, we felt good about ourselves.”
“We’ve come a long way. This program has certainly developed,” Stewart continued.
This particular group of upperclassmen leaders — Fernando Soto-Cruz, Shane Raum, Mitchell Krokus, Evan Snauer, Oden Armstrong and Andreas Blackstone — became fixtures on the varsity squad in the 2017 season. Since then, the Lions have gone a total of 26-13-4 overall and 18-6-2 in Sky-Em league play while reaching the postseason in each of the three years.
No other school in the league — public school, at least — can boast a better record over that timespan. However, the wins and losses remain secondary to Stewart’s larger goals.
“Whatever you do in life, my message is — especially to you seniors that aren’t coming back — take your time with whatever journey you’re on,” Stewart said.
“Enjoy all the times you get to spend with each other and … the soccer game becomes even that much more fun to play.”
After the Lions’ ceremony, The Sentinel caught up with three of those upperclassmen leaders — seniors Fernando Soto-Cruz and Shane Raum and junior Evan Snauer — to talk about the season, their careers as members of the CGHS soccer team and their plans now that it’s all done.
Was the season a success? How do you define that success?
Raum: Definitely a success. Starting out I didn’t know how the season would go … but last year we made a plan and we ended up making playoffs. Our last game, I don’t think we could’ve played a better game.
Soto-Cruz: I think it was definitely successful. Especially this year, it was kind of a ‘green year’ because we have a lot of new players.
What’s your favorite memory from your career?
Snauer: My favorite memory in my three years at this school is my freshman year beating Sisters because they beat us something like eight or nine years in a row. That was very cool to end the streak.
Raum: Mine would have to be beating Marist last year. They were 7-0, one game left and it was senior night. We all just played with such passion and we beat them 1-0. It was probably the best goal imaginable. It just couldn’t have been a better night, especially for the seniors that year.
Soto-Cruz: It was beating Marist, but I think now it’s my last game, our playoff game against Valley Catholic. I think the way we played defense was the best we’ve ever played, almost like the  Marist game but I think a higher level. Even though we lost, I was walking to meet my teammates and one of the [Valley Catholic] guys was like, ‘dude, you guys are high-caliber’. They expected us to just roll over, but they only got one lucky goal from a PK and knew we weren’t a team to be looked down upon.
Would you do anything differently?
Snauer: Definitely, like, [doing] more in the offseason, especially in the spring and winter. I wasn’t conditioned enough, my passing wasn’t there.
Soto-Cruz: I think I started playing better when I started engaging in other sports as well. So, maybe starting in middle school I would’ve done sports other than soccer.
Do you feel like you left the program in good hands?
Raum: Yes, I think we definitely did. Those [younger] guys have grown so much just this one year, especially all those freshman. And on JV, there are multiple guys that can contribute. I think they’ll be able to get it done.
Snauer: I’m not graduating this year because I’m a junior, but I think [the seniors] did a great job. I’m super proud of them and our freshmen are young, but they have extremely high potential and the seniors have showed them how to do it.
What are your plans for next year?
Snauer [laughing]: Uh, to attend high school.
Raum: I’m all over the place. I’ve been looking at scholarships, applying for them academic-wise … I’d really love to be able to play soccer somewhere while also doing studies in film.
Soto-Cruz: I plan on going to the University of Portland. I got a letter of acceptance. They have a good financial program, a small campus, everything’s really close and they have a great soccer program.
In an interview before the season started, Soto-Cruz said he didn’t care much about wins and losses, but he wanted every team they played to “remember Cottage Grove.” Did you achieve that goal?
Soto-Cruz: I think we did. Valley Catholic [the number two team in the state] was pretty impressed with how we played. I kept hearing their fans saying, ‘you can’t just win from a PK!’ We were bringing it all game.