Former Hilltop soccer mentor Shubert named CIF Coach of the Year


Hilltop High School alumnus Russ Shubert earned recognition as the 2019-20 San Diego Section Boys Soccer Coach of the Year with the West Hills Wolf Pack. Photo by Phillip Brents

Soccer is considered a very technical and also a very passionate sport, especially at the higher levels of play.

It can be both physically and emotionally draining, as well as immensely rewarding to the psyche, and is a sport that needs to be played under control to achieve the best results.

Trying to master all these intangibles and mesh them into a cohesive game plan is not an easy task.

But West Hills High School boys soccer coach Russ Shubert has managed to do that over the years with the Wolf Pack, as previously with his alma mater, Hilltop High School, where he got his start both as a player and coach.

Shubert led the Lancers to the 1993 San Diego Section Division II championship.

His timeline at West Hills began after that.

The Wolf Pack captured the school’s first-ever San Diego Section boys soccer championship by winning the Division III title in 2019. It was the second CIF title for Shubert in his coaching career and obviously a first for the West Hills players.

The Wolf Pack received a rare opportunity to win another CIF championship this year by advancing to the Division II final but came up short of that goal in a 3-1 loss to Grossmont Hills League rival Helix in a game played Feb. 29 at Hilltop High School.

By leading the Wolf Pack to this year’s league championship and to back-to-back section finals appearances, it was not surprising that Shubert reaped honors as the 2019-20 San Diego Section Boys Soccer Coach of the Year.

The West Hills Wolf Pack finished as Grossont Hills League champions in 2019-20. Photo by Phillip Brents

Befitting his character, he remains modest about the award.

“As far as receiving the award, it was a great surprise and my first thoughts were that the team and my staff earned recognition for any accolades,” Shubert said. “I’m proud to have been named Coach of the Year, of course, but I always talk about ‘the team’ more than individuals, so it’s awkward speaking about myself. It’s a great honor to represent our program and the school.

“The last two seasons have been outstanding in all facets. The players were super dedicated, the other coaches were all highly motivated to add ideas and support my vision, the school helped out with support and we had tons of fans out there. The parents were wonderful in their support of the team and coaches as well.

“The core of the team had been together since they were freshmen and we aimed high from the beginning to reach these goals of league and CIF titles. The league championship was special following just missing out the previous year and beating Helix at their place was extra special. The final was an odd game as we never really got going and never felt like ourselves and it’s difficult to say why exactly. To be in two CIF finals, win one, play a state playoff game, win a league title, win more games over a two-season period than any team in school history, all is just amazing.”

Shubert had plenty of company in the postseason awards category.

West Hills High School senior Jarrett Pricor earned recognition on the Grossmont Hills League all-league second team. Photo by Phillip Brents

Seniors Young Truong, Gabriel Willadsen and Carter Orchulli all earned selection to the all-league first team while junior Landon Vanderhyde and seniors Isaiah McCauley and Jarrett Pricor received recognition on the all-league second team.

Truong earned additional accolades as a member of the All-CIF First Team.

West Hills finished with a 15-4-7 overall record during the 2019-20 season, including a 5-1-2 mark in league play.

The Wolf Pack received the No. 1 seed in the Division II playoffs after making the jump up a competition tier this season.

“Overall, a wonderful group of players and an outstanding group that was focused and willing to sacrifice for each,” Shubert said. “The substitutes throughout both years contributed a ton to our success both on game days but at training each and every day. They truly bought into the motto of “Brotherhood for 90 Minutes” and the slogan “Play Until the Game is Won.”

That this year’s CIF championship game took place at Hilltop High School was a special moment for Shubert, who had alumni, friends and family in the stands rooting for him and his team.

“I did feel some pressure, but it was nice having everyone out there and receive their support,” he said.

Shubert, in true gentlemanly fashion, complemented Helix on its CIF championship victory.

“They were outstanding that night,” Shubert said.

West Hills High School junior Dillon Julian (24) slips the ball out of the reach of Helix’s Tristan Archiga (3) during the team’s climactic CIF championship game encounter Feb. 29 at Hilltop High School. Photo by Phillip Brents

CIF flashback
Micheil Ross scored in the third minute of sudden-victory overtime to lift Hilltop to the 1993 title — its third CIF title in school history — via a 1-0 win over San Pasqual. Ronnie Silva and Billy Bradley drew assists on the game-winning play that developed off a quick restart.

“It was hair-raising,” Shubert said at the time. “But the whole defense played outstanding. It was an all-around effort.

“It came down to our seniors … We were loose. I told them before the game to just go out and have fun. They came through.”

Shubert still has fond memories of that 1993 CIF championship season.

“I remember every minute of the season and game,” recalled Shubert, who served as the Lancers’ goalkeeper during his playing days from 1980-83 and earned honors as the 1983 Metro League Player of the Year. “Great game and victory in OT. Sadly, we lost Mike Ross. He passed away from cancer some years ago now. Mikey scored that goal for us — Ronnie Silva to Billy Bradley, cross and Mikey runs on and heads the ball over the goalkeeper.

“We had played San Pasqual in the San Diego Holiday tournament and won that in overtime as well, 2-1.”

Both that Hilltop team and his 2019 West Hills CIF championship teams had lots of similarities, he said.

“Almost the same records, both only lost four games all year, neither won the league, but were so good in their respective playoff runs,” Shubert said.

“Both teams were teams — neither relied on one player but played as complete teams. Each had a leading scorer — Hilltop, Oscar Figueroa, and West Hills, Rian Stiles — but each played within a team concept. Both had stellar defenses and goalkeepers. West Hills only gave up 17 goals all year, three were PKs, and had 11 shutouts. Each team won a game in the CIF run in PKs.”

West Hills High School goalkeeper Carter Orchilli goes up to attack at high cross during the Division II San Diego Section championship game at Hilltop High School. Photo by Phillip Brents

The Wolf Pack allowed 28 goals this season in 26 games with 10 shutouts.

Orchulli, the team’s goalkeeper, recorded a 0.97 goals-against average in 18 game appearances this season after posting a 0.54 goals-against average in 2018-19.

This season’s Hilltop team, under head coach John Salts, finished as the 2019-20 South Bay League champion while advancing as far as the Division III semifinals.

The Lancers ended their season with an overtime loss to top-seeded Escondido.

Senior Gael Ruiz, the 2019-20 South Bay League Co-Player of the Year, did his best imitation of Figueroa by scoring 31 goals and 13 assists this season for 75 scoring points.

Salts congratulated Shubert on his award.

“Russ has been one of the top coaches in San Diego County for over the past 25 years,” Salts said. “He had an amazing run leading the Lancers for many years before heading out east to Cuyamaca College and then onto West Hills High.

“Russ has a vast knowledge of soccer but his true strength is how he connects with his players and builds a strong bond with his teams.  This team chemistry is a key to his programs’ success over the years.”

Hilltop High School senior Gael Ruiz (7) ranked among the section’s top scorers during the 2019-20 season. Photos by Phillip Brents

Salts called Ruiz” the latest Hilltop Soccer star in a long history of amazing talent that has come through the program.”

“Gael reminds me a lot of two former players from the past — Alex Parker from the early 2000s who went on to play at the University of Redlands and Jimmy Estrada from this last decade who went on to play at SDSU.

“Gael’s ability to take charge of a game and control the momentum like he did against Mater Dei Catholic by scoring three goals in the first nine minutes or against Chula Vista where he scored two goals in six minutes to lead the Lancers to the win in both matches while being double and triple teamed.

“With that type of talent, what makes Gael stand out even more is his desire to set up his teammates for success. Someone who can score and control the flow usually is not a playmaker. However, Gael finds more happiness in helping his teammates succeed then doing it himself. This is a sign of a great player.”

Alumni at the next level:
Hilltop has placed a number of alumni at the next level.

Goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas (2011-14) signed with Xolos Mexico and then his contract was bought by Sporting Kansas of Major League Soccer. Zendejas was then traded to the new expansion team Nashville FC.

Former Lancers who have played on the collegiate pitch include Chris Wessel (UNLV),

Ben Oliver (Ohio State), Erik Vargas (Cal State Los Angeles) and Rigoberto Maciel (Cal State Los Angeles).

Hilltop water polo player Emilio Maldonado went on to play at Whittier College.