Bonilla and company prepare for another run

Zebras load up for new league
By: Jim Linsdau, Sports Editor
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For Lincoln High boys soccer head coach George Bonilla it is a new season, new league and business as usual.

On pace to be one of the most successful soccer coaches in Fighting Zebras’ history, Bonilla has compiled a 78-14-13 record over his five-year tenure. He has never failed to get Lincoln into the playoffs, has three successive Pioneer Valley League championships and led the Zebras to a Sac-Joaquin Section championship in 2017.

In the last two seasons, Lincoln’s record is 28-2-5. This season, the Zebras enter the Foothill Valley League.

“Every year is different. I never use the world ‘rebuild’ because there’s no such thing as a rebuilding year,” Bonilla said. “We have our work cut out for us this year. We have four returning starters and we have seven spots available.”

Graduation took five of Bonilla’s players from last year’s team and the Sacramento Republic FC Academy took his second-leading scorer. To top that off, Lincoln enters the newly formed FVL and the section’s third winter season.

Bonilla is very familiar with the FVL’s Placer Hillmen, and the Zebras played Nevada Union and Oakmont last preseason, defeating both. The upside is most of the new league’s teams play on turf.

“It does make a difference,” Bonilla said of synthetic turf. “The speed of the ball is different than it is on grass.”

However, Bonilla dismissed the issue and said the matches still come down to which team shows up ready to play.

The head coach’s biggest concern is the defensive holes he will have to fill. He lost three of his top defenders to graduation. His top scorer Manuel “Manny” Martinez returns, but two of his best assist leaders have departed.

“Right now, it’s looking like we’re going to have a lot of inexperience,” Bonilla said. “I don’t know how they’re going to gel together because I’ll probably start a couple of freshmen.”

Perhaps a big key in shoring up the defense is the return of goalkeeper McClean Learned. He played a big role last season as a sophomore, saving 78 shots and helping to win 15 games against one loss.

“He’s was our main goalkeep last year, for the most part of the year,” said Bonilla. “Actually, he’s gotten a little bit better than he was last year so I’m excited about that.”

Of the FVL teams Lincoln will play, last year only Rio Linda came close to a winning record (10-10-3). However, the NU Miners were playing in the Sierra Foothill League and the Pondo Bruins the Capital Valley Conference.

Bonilla is not taking anybody for granted and has scheduled a strong preseason to prepare.

“We have a few Division I teams that we are going to play this year. Our goal is to be competitive in every game, regardless of who we play,” said Bonilla. “I’m very excited about this new league and I’m looking forward for these kids to at least compete in the league.”

Lincoln has a three-match home stand coming up, each beginning at 6 p.m. It starts Dec. 5 hosting Pittsburg, Dec. 6 Roseville comes in and Whitney visits Dec. 11; three teams that combined for 37 victories last season.

The Zebras are running.