Buchanan High School powered to an elite place in Valley soccer history by winning five of the last six Division I boys championships.
Now, the Bears will try to add to their remarkable achievements when championship playoffs begin the week of Feb. 13.
If Buchanan claims another championship this year, the school will have won four titles in a row. That would tie Bullard High School’s record among large schools, according to Central Section historian Bob Barnett. Bullard won from 1977-80.
Another championship would be a testament to Buchanan’s staying power.
“I think it would be a great accomplishment, especially since every year people keep counting us out,” head coach John Spurgeon said. “But the guys on this team know the past, and they’re going to try to be that team that wins that fourth in a row.”
Winning in 2017 also would put an exclamation mark on the careers of Buchanan seniors Jacob Rudolph and Stephan Morris, who both have championship rings from 2014, 2015 and 2016. Rudolph and Morris are captains of the 2016-17 team.
Buchanan’s seeding in the Div. I playoffs was not known at press time, but the team appeared to be peaking at the right time, Spurgeon said.
The Bears won their last five games of the regular season, including a victory over highly-ranked Clovis High School. Through Feb. 9, the Bears were 14-6-3 overall and 8-2 in the Tri-River Athletic Conference. They shared the TRAC championship with Clovis High.
Buchanan’s six losses exceed by one the school’s combined losses in 2014-15 (three) and 2015-16 (two).
But, Spurgeon said, “I’m not that concerned with the win-loss record. It’s about the improvement of the team, and we seem now to be coming along. I think this team will rise when it comes to the playoffs. We do have that experience on our side.”
Buchanan won its first Division I title in 2003, followed by five titles under Spurgeon — in 2011, 2012 and then 2014-16. (He also won a title in 1994 as coach of the Hoover High School boys team.)
Spurgeon said he tries not to put pressure on his players. “But we do try to make them have the desire to continue winning,” he said.
A glimpse into Spurgeon’s coaching style came from his son, Trevor, who played soccer at Buchanan. At the end of the 2010-11 season — when Spurgeon was named Coach of the Year by The Fresno Bee — Trevor said of his father: “He gave us this mentality that we weren’t going to lose.”
Spurgeon works hard to keep his teams from becoming complacent. “We don’t let up. We’re never satisfied. You have to keep giving them the belief that they can succeed,” he said.
This year’s team has succeeded by taking advantage of its speed and by showing no big weaknesses on the field. “Overall, it’s just a strong team,” Spurgeon said.
Meanwhile, developing mental toughness has been a work in progress. “Sometimes, they don’t think they’re as good as they are,” Spurgeon said. “They have some real quality. The mental toughness is getting better as the season has worn on.”
As that season nears an end, Spurgeon pointed to the contributions of five players:
▪ Rudolph, who has committed to playing at UC Davis. He scored both goals when Buchanan won the Div. I title in 2016.
▪ Morris, who has committed to playing at Fresno Pacific University.
▪ Austin Roberts, a junior in the backfield. “He’s a great ball winner and has great speed,” Spurgeon said.
▪ Isaiah Cummins, a versatile junior who plays in the midfield.
▪ Jonathan Zepeda, a senior forward. “He plays with his uncles in the Mexican league,” Spurgeon said. “He’s got a toughness from playing against men and getting kicked around as the kid. He doesn’t shy away from anything.”
Now in his 10th season with the Bears and his 32nd year as a high school coach, Spurgeon works at Costco from 4 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and comes to Buchanan in the afternoons. “I don’t know what I’d do with myself if I wasn’t coaching,” Spurgeon, 57, said. “I’ll keep doing it as long as I can.”
Marcos Alvarez, sophomore
Esteban Banda, junior
Mathew Battaion, junior
Remy Blanchette, junior
Jon Bronze, junior
Blake Crossland, junior
Isaiah Cummins, junior
Tyler Ferguson, sophomore
Connor Hatton, senior
Wyatt Madden, sophomore
Caleb Malan, senior
Fernando Morales, junior
Stephan Morris, senior
Khaled Ramadan, senior
Austin Roberts, junior
Jacob Rudolph, senior
Eduardo Ruiz, junior
Lalo Saavedra, senior
Elijah Taylor, junior
Juan Villasenor, senior
Seth Wilderson, junior
Jordan Wilkins, sophomore
Jonathan Zepeda, senior