East Ascension, Holy Cross battle to draw in soccer _lowres

Advocate staff photo by APRIL BUFFINGTON -- East Ascension's Luis Lechuga, right, and Holy Cross' Miles Johnson battle for the ball Monday at Spartan Stadium in Gonzales.

History is repeating itself at East Ascension High School.

A year ago, the Spartans soccer team was in the throes of one of the worst seasons the program had ever seen when coach Michael Zanco found himself yelling at a group of freshmen for a poor training session.

Suddenly, he had to stop. He had heard the tirade before.

Zanco realized it wasn’t so long ago he was a freshman at EA in the mid-2000s getting yelled at by his coach, Bruno Van Moer.

“Van Moer would scream at us for doing something wrong and (assistant coach Mike Briones) would come up and say, ‘Listen, he’s mad because of this,’ ” Zanco said. “So one day, I go up to the boys after a bad training and I’m just yelling at them, and then (current assistant coach Kevin Navarro) goes up and says, ‘Look, he’s mad because of this,’ and I can’t help but have a moment of clarity.”

Van Moer took over the program in 2004 when it had no semblance of organization or drive, barely able to get enough inflated balls to practice.

The former coach instilled discipline to the program, often taking a “tough love” approach with players. He instituted weekly grade checks and had no problems punishing players for classroom behavior.

“I wanted them to understand it’s not just about being a soccer player,” Van Moer said. “It’s about being able to rely on each other in the classroom, out the classroom, on the field, off the field — build a family.”

Under Van Moer, EA became a force in the Baton Rouge soccer community, going to consecutive Class 4A state finals and winning three straight district titles.

But since Van Moer retired from the program in 2012, EA has struggled to find consistency. It had been so long since the Spartans beat parish rival St. Amant, no one seemed to remember when the last win was. The same wentfor Dutchtown and Catholic.

Current team captain Dylan Vidrine said there was no cohesion among the team and every day was a struggle to get players to practice — not unlike the situation Van Moer arrived to.

“Most players did not look forward to practice and games, and the year before was even worse,” Vidrine said. “The losing definitely did affect the morale of the team.”

On his arrival, Zanco’s first goal was to restore the program to its former glory and make players proud to be a Spartan again.

In order to do that, Zanco needed people who knew what the program used to be.

Zanco hired former teammates as assistants and brought Van Moer back into the locker room as a motivational speaker to teach the players what it meant to be successful.

“I want to (keep it in the family),” Zanco said. “I want guys that know the program at its most successful.

“That was probably the biggest thing I wanted to do. … Everybody from that era needs to come in and be more involved.”

But success proved easier said than done. The Spartans won four games last year, including a 1-11 record in district play, and a lack of trust between players and coach remained.

So Zanco moved on to Phase 2 of his plan — tough love.

Over the next year, Zanco reinstated weekly grade checks and discipline reports. EA once again does offseason conditioning. It’s to the point where it’s common to hear Zanco is stricter than Van Moer.

And just as Zanco is following in the footsteps of his old coach, this generation of EA players is rebuilding the successes of old.

In Zanco’s second season as head coach, EA (11-4-5) already has wins against Dutchtown and Catholic. More importantly, the Spartans can win their first district title since 2008 in the regular-season finale with a win against St. Amant on Tuesday.

If the scenario sounds familiar to Zanco, it’s because in Van Moer’s second season at EA the Spartans lost its first seven games.

That season ended in EA’s first appearance in a state final.

“It’s like when you grow up and become a parent and you understand one day,” Zanco said. “I completely understand where (Van Moer) was with certain things.”