November 10, 2012
Star striker gets in goal to help Sac Country Day win soccer title

Sacramento Country Day's boys soccer standout Morgan Bennett-Smith had an ominous feeling today.

Victory Christian, a team Country Day had beaten 2-0 during the season, had pushed the Cavaliers to a penalty-kick shootout in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII championship game at Cosumnes Oaks High School.

Despite his best efforts - Bennett-Smith had 34 goals coming into the match - Sacramento County Day was held scoreless through 80 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtimes.

The senior striker couldn't help think back to the previous two years when the Cavaliers lost to Millennium of Tracy in the section finals, including a 5-3 PK loss in 2010.

"We've had some terrible luck," Bennett-Smith said. "We've been cursed a little bit."

Then Cavaliers coach Matt Vargo added a twist.

Bennett-Smith not only would take the first PK attempt for his team, he'd also be the shootout goalie, even though fellow senior co-captain Gerardo Vergara had been stellar during the match.

"He's the best athlete at the school, he used to play goalie when he was young, and he's the quickest player I've got," Vargo said.

The decision was a shocker for Bennett-Smith, even though he worked with Vergara on stopping PKs in practice during the week.

"I played goalie one game (for 20 minutes) during the season," said Bennett-Smith. "So I had no idea. I didn't know what to do."

As it turned out, Bennett-Smith didn't need to make a save, though his own successful PK helped the Cavaliers (17-2-0) prevail 3-2 over the Vikings (15-5-3). Gritty Victory Christian missed three of its five attempts - two wide left and one over the crossbar.

"That was a whole different world, jumping in the goal for a PK shootout," Bennett-Smith said, clutching the section banner. "Maybe the switch got in their heads or something, but I didn't touch the ball. Still, it's quite a win."

It was a big win in another way for Bennett-Smith.

He has had a friendly competition through the years with brother Miles, who finished his star-studded Country Day soccer career in 2009, just as Morgan was beginning his.

Miles scored 93 goals, was twice a league MVP and led the Cavaliers to two section titles during his four seasons. He's now a senior at Stanford, where he plays on the university's club men's soccer team.

Morgan tallied 119 goals and earned three league MVP awards during his four years at the 135-student school. Finally he had a banner, too.

"It's always been a big competition between me and my brother - who can win more section banners, league MVPs and who can score the most goals," Morgan said. "It's been a pretty even battle."

Vargo, in his 10th season as head coach, has enjoyed having a Bennett-Smith lead his teams for eight consecutive seasons.

"Not only are they great players, they're great leaders," Vargo said. "But they're like all our kids. They're so eager to learn, and they absorb everything we teach them."

Vargo also was happy that his 10 seniors, including starters Bennett-Smith, Vergara, Logan Winfield, Jackson Dulla and Donald Hutchinson, got to experience a championship after two close calls.

"I know they really wanted to go out on top," Vargo said. "So I'm proud of them and happy for them."

While Morgan Bennett-Smith is a soccer-first athlete who plans to play at the next level, many of the Cavaliers have a primary focus on other sports.

Four left Cosumnes Oaks immediately after the match to run in the section cross country championships at Folsom.

"I've got some basketball guys who transfer over," Vargo said. "I've got some who played club soccer when they were younger, and I've got some lacrosse guys who I talked into playing soccer. But that's what you have to do at a small school."

Vargo felt for Victory Christian coach Rob Maxey and his players, who were the 120-student school's first boys soccer team to reach the finals.

"My heart goes out to Victory, no one wants to end a season like that," Vargo said. "They had a great season, and I know their coach is very proud of them."

Like Vargo, Maxey depended heavily on his multi-sport players, some of whom have been classmates since grade school. The leaders were senior captains Justin DiMeola, Ian Dawson, Matt Almas and Charley Maxey, Rob's son.

Maxey said he had only three players currently playing club soccer.

"These are young men of character and hard work - no trainers or ODP coaches - just a few dedicated dads and some hard working kids," Maxey said. "These guys aren't vying for local scholarships, many are playing with hand-me down boots, yet there's an undeniable team spirit that I've never experienced before."



About the Prep blog

Bee staff writers Joe Davidson and Bill Paterson provide news, analysis and insight on the area high school sports scene in their Prep Blog. Have a question to ask them? Send them an email any time at jdavidson@sacbee.com or bpaterson@sacbee.com.

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