When a high school sports team features athletes who excel academically, it is admirable.
When an entire team does so, it’s pretty special.
It’s for that reason that these days the San Dieguito Academy boys soccer team is bursting with pride.
The Mustangs entire roster of 24 players was named to the San Diego Union-Tribune’s All-Academic team.
The team’s combined GPA was 3.8, including eight players with GPA’s of 4.0 and up. Two others posted a 3.97 GPA and a 3.96 GPA.
“Really, really great groups of kids,” Mustangs coach Keith Whitmer said. “We want to win games at SDA but we really pride ourselves on our academics.”
“The minimum (qualifying GPA) is 3.2,” he said. “And we crushed it.”
Senior Ethan Boutelle typifies the Mustangs’ academics-first culture.
Boutelle, a co-captain, was was among the Avocado League West’s leading scorers this year and helped lead the Mustangs to the San Diego Section Division I quarterfinals.
Boutelle is among two Mustangs players carrying a 4.25 GPA (Noah Bussell is the other).
In Whitmer’s estimation, Boutelle projects as a potential Division I collegiate prospect. Boutelle wants to play collegiate soccer, but he’s pursuing some of the nation’s elite academic programs, with Cal Tech and MIT among the top schools on his list.
“He’s very much a student first and athlete second,” Whitmer said of Boutelle. “That kind of embodies SDA, to say the least.”
Also embodying SDA’s academics-oriented culture is Jonathan Sabouri, a senior co-captain and all-league selection, who has a 3.65 GPA and will play on scholarship at Division II UC San Diego next season.
Senior Nick Engert and junior Jacob Bland are among the team’s other top players with high academic aspirations.
UC Berkeley and MIT are among the schools Bland is considering. Engert, a high academic and athletic performer wants to play collegiately, too.
“I’ve really been impressed with all these kids, with their motivation and they’re willingness to compete.” Whitmer said. “A lot of them play club too, and they’re just killing it the classroom. It’s pretty impressive.”
Whitmer, a first-year coach at SDA, said his players responded to the team-first emphasis he’s tried to instill.
“We had goals as a team in terms of really changing the environment and really shifting the focus on making this more of team environment and the kids bought in right away,” Whitmer said. ”It was important for me to get them to believe in themselves.”
While the Mustangs team is in one of the county’s toughest leagues (the Mustangs placed fifth, and were 4-12-4 overall for the season), the team’s smarts translated into a high soccer IQ, Whitmer said
“I don’t think it was indicative of the talent that we had,” Whitmer said. “We were in every game, they never ever quit.”
The Mustangs proved Whitmer’s point in the postseason. As a No. 12 seed, they upset No. 5 Southwest San Diego in the first round.
Southwest San Diego was unbeaten as Metro Mesa league champions.
The Mustangs lost to No. 4 La Costa Canyon in the quarterfinals in a hotly contested 1-0 game.
The team’s progress throughout the season was impressive.
“In the playoff run, we got it right,” Whitmer said. “All of a sudden everything seemed to click. The way we wanted to play all season seemed to click in the playoffs and it was exciting.”
And something to build on for a program that Whitmer enjoys coaching, and believes is on the rise.
“These are great kids to be around, they’re super smart and they’re super motivated,” Whitmer said.
“The opportunities these kids are going to have with going to colleges are phenomenal,” Whitmer said. “In addition to being talented kids, they’re great kids, that was a highlight for me. I had so much fun during that four-month season, it was a blast.”