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By Steve Breazeale
Last March, Gage Zerboni and the San Clemente boys soccer team were busy barnstorming their way through the CIF-SS Division 1 playoffs and found themselves playing for the Southern Regional Team Championship. Zerboni knew those final days would be his last in a Tritons uniform and he, and the Tritons, made them count by capping off a historic season.
Now Zerboni has traded the trademark red and white San Clemente uniform in for a blue and gold one.
As a member of the No. 2 UCLA men’s soccer team, Zerboni has been thrown into the fire of Pac-12 competition and has been successful. The true freshman has three goals and two assists in 11 games played this season.
On November 3 the Bruins (10-3-4, 5-1-3 Pac-12) defeated then-No. 1 California 2-1, vaulting them into the top spot in the Pac-12 standings.
The San Clemente Times caught up with Zerboni on the team’s bye week to get his thoughts on his freshman season, what it’s like to score a goal in Division 1 soccer, and his thoughts on the future of UCLA soccer.
San Clemente Times: You guys just pulled off a major win against Cal. What was the key for UCLA in that victory?
Gage Zerboni: The first time we played Cal (a 3-2 overtime loss on October 13) we felt like we outplayed them and should have won that game. So we knew our game plan coming in (on Sunday). We needed to keep possession. I think it was a pretty even game but we probably had more success because we wanted it more. We just executed our game plan better than they did.
SCT: The Pac-12 is full of elite teams. What was it like jumping from high school straight into that hostile schedule?
GZ: Yeah, I think it’s something like three teams are in the top-10 (UCLA, Washington, California). It’s obviously really tough playing against the best players in the country. But it’s also an honor playing against them. It’s cool to see everything unfold when we play against these great players.
SCT: How have you seen your game progress this season?
GZ: Coming in as a freshman is always tough. I came from a small club team so I’ve always felt like the underdog and I knew I had my work cut out for me. I had to be honest about my work rate and keep my energy up in practice. I had to make the most of my chances and opportunities once I got into the game and stay on the field.
SCT: It seems like you have done just that in a limited amount of playing time. What’s it been like knowing that you’ve contributed to the team’s success by scoring goals?
GZ: It’s been really exciting. My first goal was exhilarating. I stepped onto the field against Oregon State at the end of the game and scored within two minutes … But I don’t care how many I score so as long as the team is striving and doing well.
SCT: Tell me about the young group of players on the Bruins roster. There are so many freshmen. That has to make you feel optimistic about the future.
GZ: We all get along so well. We are all really excited to get on the field and play. We all love soccer and it’s only a matter of time before we work together and leave our legacy here at UCLA.