The new familiar: first year CHS soccer coach makes his mark

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

Fans of Claremont High School boys soccer received news last summer they never thought they’d hear: longtime varsity head coach Fred Bruce-Oliver was stepping down after 42 years with the program.

First hired in 1980, Bruce-Oliver became the boys varsity head coach in 1986. He led the team to two Palomares League titles and two CIF-Southern Section championships, in 1994 and 2011.

Bruce-Oliver’s successor, Eddie Flores, was at his side for 14 years as his assistant coach.

“It’s not just pressure from trying to be as successful as Fred, but just being successful for the alumni and people that have come before,” Flores said.

Claremont High boys varsity soccer head coach Eddie Flores talks with his team before practice this week. Flores spent 14 years as former coach Fred Bruce-Oliver’s assistant before getting his shot at the job this year. COURIER photo/Andrew Alonzo.

Flores has certainly met the challenge. In his first six games in charge, his team has yet to know defeat, and, incredibly, has allowed just two goals, both on December 13, when it beat Don Lugo, 6-2.

It’s a stat Flores is proud of as a defensively minded coach.

“I’m more concerned of the zero against us than us actually scoring goals initially,” he said. “We have a pretty good overall talented group, but I want the guys to defend [first]. We have to be able to defend and keep the opponents at zero.”

Claremont’s overall record is 4-0-2, with two scoreless ties.

In front of an obviously solid defense, the team plays a possessive and counterattacking style of soccer, a faster yet similar system to Bruce-Oliver’s.

At Monday’s practice, players took part in intricate games of soccer-tennis, an exercise where two teams volley a ball back and forth, keeping it up before one team allows it to hit the ground. The exercise is meant to build ball control, passing and communication skills.

Junior striker Wyatt Ponting, who was coached by Bruce-Oliver last year, has taken note of Flores’s new style of play and adapted.

Junior Claremont High boys soccer center back Thomas Spinner volleys during a soccer-tennis exercise on Monday. COURIER photo/Andrew Alonzo.

“He likes to pass it a lot, move on and off the ball, and I was expecting that coming into the season,” Wyatt said. “And that’s what we’ve been doing.”

It hasn’t taken much for the new coach to win his team over, as most have known Flores since their freshmen year. Senior center back Nathan Giles said he has noticed similarities between the demands of Flores and Bruce-Oliver, which has made the transition that much easier.

A significant sign of Flores’ progress was on display December 9 when the team welcomed a familiar foe, Riverside Polytechnic High School, who in 2021 and again in 2022 ended Claremont’s Division III CIF-SS playoff runs.

The Wolfpack came away with a 3-0 shutout win, after which Flores called Bruce-Oliver.

“I told him, ‘I got one back for the program,’” Flores said.

Flores knows what his team is capable of and is hoping to mount another Palomares League title and CIF-SS playoff run this year.

“As teams look us up and they see, ‘Oh, they beat Riverside Poly three to zero,’ I hope that makes people worry,” he said. “These guys are a little bit more hungry. Not that they weren’t hungry, but I think it’s just a fresh start for these guys. Obviously, I just took over so it’s like a clean slate for some of them. I think this year they’re a little bit more mature and a little bit more experienced.”

Senior Claremont High boys soccer midfielder Nicolas Barragan passes during a scrimmage match on Monday. COURIER photo/Andrew Alonzo.

Bruce-Oliver said he always knew Flores would be next in line for his old job. In addition to picking up where the former coach left off in terms of success, Bruce-Oliver said Flores is forging a new path.

“He’s very in tune with the high school game and the game in general at all levels,” Bruce-Oliver said. “He sees the game a little differently than I do, but he loves it, and he wants to pass on his passion and his vision for the game to the student athletes.”

Flores shared his appreciation for his longtime mentor and friend. “He’s a great person, great guy, and I just kind of want to bring back one [title] for him.”

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