COTTAGE GROVE – The No. 6 Cottage Grove Lions boys soccer team went into last Wednesday’s match at No. 11 Marist Catholic needing a win or draw to claim the Sky-Em League title. Down 2-1 late, junior Tristyn Burnes scored a goal with 80 seconds left to give the Lions a draw and clinch the program’s first league title since 2017.
“It means everything. It’s a testament to the work that guys have put in, you know, throughout the preseason, and all through the season itself,” said Jaime Urenda, Cottage Grove’s first-year head coach. “They’ve worked hard. They’ve earned it, each and every one of them. They knew coming in here what it meant, and you saw that out there with the perseverance.”
After a scoreless first half, Javi Sandoval-Gongora broke the tie for Marist in the 65th minute. The final five minutes had the real action, though, as Cottage Grove’s Eli Williams tied the game in the 75th minute with a header.
“We worked hard, we knew we needed the win or the tie coming into it, or we’d risk having to play in another play-in game,” Williams said. “We just wanted to break off of that and be able to go straight to the playoffs with some momentum.”
Marist answered back immediately, though, taking a 2-1 lead off a goal from Joey Cooper in the 76th minute. But Burnes’ heroics pulled the Lions even, proving this team has the intangibles that make good teams great.
“It just goes to show our character. Never give up, always stay in the game, stay in the moment, and finish opportunities that you get, because you never know if you’re going to get them again,” Urenda said. “This is everything for me. It’s a dream come true, to be honest.”
Urenda led the Lions to the league title in his first year at the helm of the program – but he’s no stranger to winning at Cottage Grove. A 2006 CGHS alum, Urenda was an assistant coach on the 2008 CGHS team that went 15-0-3 and won the state title. The head coach of that team? Brian Fish, who is now the assistant coach for Urenda.
“I told these guys at the beginning of the season that these guys are just as talented as that team, if not better. We just have to put it together. They bought into it the whole time, and we just gotta keep believing in ourselves,” Urenda said, noting that JV coach Kyle Helsel was a midfielder on that team as well. “And Brian Fish, man, he deserves so much credit. … I look over to him for his advice all the time. I know his expertise is second to none, he is one of the best around, and always will be.”
Urenda took the job at Cottage Grove for many reasons, but one of those was to bring another state championship to his alma mater. A lofty goal for a coach in his first year at a program, but one Urenda isn’t shying away from. And one the team wants to bring to fruition sooner than later.
“We have to continue that momentum, and just keep playing how we’ve been playing,” Williams said, noting the team has extra motivation with the championship-caliber coaches. “Having them here, we know that we want to make them proud and win (state) for them again.”
The players have felt the impact of having Urenda and Fish pushing them, and the results speak for themselves. The draw against Marist marked 11s traight games without a loss to end the season — 10 wins and a draw after starting the year 1-2. Cottage Grove’s goal-differential in those 11 games is +36.
“It’s been great. Fortunately, we’ve been lucky to have everybody healthy. The team has been buying into what us as coaches are trying to put out, and they’re buying into it,” Urenda said. “They’re working really hard at practice. I can’t say enough, I mean, I told them I was going to work them harder than they’ve ever worked in their lives. And it shows out on the field, all the hard work pays off.”
Class 4A boys soccer playoffs kick off on Wednesday, Nov.1, and as of their ranking now, the Lions would host a first-round playoff game. Despite having two weeks between its final regular-season game and its playoff opener, Cottage Grove won’t get complacent.
“We just need to stay focused. We’re not going to take any days off. We’re going to continue working hard. We’re going to keep running,” Urenda said. “There’s no days off, so we’re going to keep working as hard as we can to be in the best shape for the playoffs. And we’ll see what happens.”