Artiaga focused on work despite health issues

Terrel Emerson

If there was anything Cerritos College men’s soccer head coach Benny Artiaga wanted you to know about this past season, it’s that Cerritos Falcons are back.

His team managed to make the Southern California Regional Playoffs despite posting a record of 9-7-5. However, the team did go 5-1-2 in conference play.

The team was bounced in the first round of the playoffs after losing 2-1 to Golden West College.

In addition to the up and down season, Artiaga dealt with one of his most trying seasons of late.

“I had been dealing with this injury for three or four years and the last two seasons it has gotten unbearable,” he said.

Artiaga had been dealing with a 13 and a half millimeter herniation/bulge in his back. He said it crippled him.

“My nerve was pinched nine months under excruciating pain and the last month I spent on my back almost to the point of not being able to tend for myself or do any daily activities,” he recalled.

Artiaga was forced to miss multiple practices and even games throughout the course of the season.

But then things got even worse.

Artiaga said, “At that point coaching effectively was completely out of the question. Doctors were concerned of permanent nerve damage so surgery was required and unfortunately it happened during our season.”

Artiaga’s surgery was scheduled for Friday, Nov. 11, a must-win conference game for his men’s soccer team.

“Not being there for them was the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with in a long time. But in retrospect, I should’ve done it a lot sooner, probably last year. Because the truth of the matter is when you live with this type of pain, it’s impossible to do your job with the same enthusiasm and excitement as you have in the past,” Artiaga said.

Right after waking up for surgery, Artiaga said the first thing out of his mouth to his surgeon was whether or not his team was headed to the playoffs.

He was delighted to find out his Falcons defeated the El Camino Warriors and were headed to the SoCal Regional Playoffs.

In a previous interview, forward Oscar Canela said, “For our coach to be in surgery and miss previous games, [the Falcons] knew we had to give it our full 100 percent. We wanted to get that win for us but mainly for him.”

The dream was short-lived as Cerritos would be eliminated from the playoffs just eight days later. However, Artiaga still takes pride in what his team was able to do.

Artiaga said, “This season was very special to me and winning the South Coast Conference was important because it took a collective effort. When I went completely down prior to the Mt. San Antonio [match] we were in complete control of the conference but again it’s very difficult when the head coach goes down because you add confusion to a team.

“My assistants did a great job of keeping it together. Chris Lackavich, Jose Esparza, Raul Ruiz and the rest of my staff did a great job of keeping it together. We spoke or texted almost daily.”

Furthermore, Artiaga expressed some displeasure with some of the season awards that were handed out.

“Too bad my coaches didn’t win Coach of the Year but our conference is notorious for making a mockery of that award as they usually hand out those awards out of pity and to losing programs. But we don’t get wrapped up in that though, we focus on winning and transferring out our kids which we have done extremely well for over a decade,” he said.

He also even found time to credit his players for the hard work they put into the season.

“The boys did a great job of turning it around and getting back on track to win the conference,” he said.

Freshman midfielder/forward Luis Garcia won the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year and freshman defender Jose Ponce was runner-up for the Defensive Player of the Year award.

According to Artiaga, “[These] are exciting times here for our program as we know we will be a force to be reckoned with. This upcoming season will be like when I first started coaching and had no state titles to my name; I’m going to come back as hungry as ever. Next year’s team should be as good as we have had in a long, long time.”

This was obviously one of the hardest seasons for Artiaga to deal with but his team was able to personify one of the mantras he lives by daily:

Never say die.