Saves of the giant Peach

Backup goalie Kevin Peach excelled in three starts. Then he was inexplicably back on the bench.

soccer feature
Photo Illustration / Evan Walbridge/Staff

Kevin Peach was on top of the world.

After receiving a spot start in relief of goalkeeper Robbie Gogatz, the redshirt freshman stepped up and shut out a talented Vermont squad, 3-0, with 10 saves in the Sept. 23 contest. His future seemed as bright as any up and coming star on the Cal men’s soccer team.

So why, just two games later, did Peach find himself sitting at the end of the bench, watching Cal sink further into futility? And even more importantly, how can someone that showed so much promise not be upset about the lack of opportunity?

Coming into my interview with Peach, I had one goal on my mind: I wanted him to admit the “goalie controversy” between him and Gogatz is detrimental to the team’s mentality.

I sought to answer how someone could truly be this humble in such an ego-driven activity. The guy simply outplayed his competition for three consecutive games, and his reward was a comfortable seat on the bench.

Let’s be honest: college athletes are egomaniacs. To find out why Peach seemingly defied the stereotype, an inquiry into his childhood was in order to see if his upbringings promoted some abstract quality I hadn’t realized.

Peach talked about growing up in San Jose. A safe, metropolitan city. No personality indicators there. But what was really intriguing off the bat was the concentration of his athletic talents.

“Soccer wasn’t always my number one,” Peach says. “I grew up playing a lot of hockey.”

Hockey? Peach is a lean, athletic 6-foot-6. His body type just screams goalie. His height would rank among the 10 tallest NHL players. The only hockey position someone that size plays IS goalie. But Peach was a little different.

“I played all over the place,” he says.

This guy wasn’t just focused on basketball like any normal tall lanky kid would be; instead, he wanted to make the degree of difficulty as high as possible so sports would be a challenge. Pretty forward thinking for a nine year-old.

But surely, as Peach matured, he gave up these whimsical fantasies, started on his high school’s soccer team freshman year and won the state title. Isn’t that every college athlete’s story?

“I started at the low of the low,” Peach says. “I was the goalie for the freshman team. I worked my way up to the junior varsity and didn’t start for my high school team until junior year.”

The anecdote illustrates why Peach wasn’t as taken aback by his sudden benching. The majority of Division I athletes develop a sense of superiority throughout their childhood as a result of their sheer and utter dominance over everyone else. But if his childhood upbringing fostered a mindset in which superiority wasn’t an inherently entitled concept, it makes sense that this would be an effective coaching philosophy. For him, at least.

Even the recruiting process was far from conventional.

“My buddies told me, ‘If you want to get recruited, you go to these school’s soccer camps,’” Peach says. “So I signed up for a (Cal soccer) camp the summer before my senior year and got MVP of the camp.”

He says “the big break” came shortly thereafter. Coach Kevin Grimes called Peach two days after the camp’s conclusion, offering to send him and his family up to Berkeley to visit the campus and check out the soccer facilities. It was Peach’s only offer, and he accepted it without hesitation.

Clearly, Peach had no trouble accepting struggle as a necessary evil for improvement. He had deliberately challenged himself by playing sports outside of his comfort zone, waited patiently for an opportunity to start on his high school team and signed up for goalie camps after no Division I team expressed interest for his first three years of high school.

At this point, I felt comfortable discussing the goalie controversy. But I now had a slightly altered perspective. Peach legitimately seemed to understand the value of hard work and patience. Ego clashes and goalie spats are not phrases in Kevin Peach’s vernacular; to him, they are just part of the natural process of struggle and rebuilding.

I carefully questioned his recent benching. Did you feel like it was irrational? Were you personally offended by the decision? After your stellar play, isn’t it upsetting that you weren’t given an opportunity to shine?

“Whoever’s performing better deserves to be in,” Peach says. “It’s not that you did bad. It’s just that someone outworked you.”

To Peach, the benching wasn’t an insult. Peach saw the decision to start Gogatz as a concrete message that he simply needed to take the task of improving into his own hands if he desired to start.

Regardless of the team’s collective selflessness (or lack thereof), I realized the attitude nonetheless served Peach well on an individual level. As long as the other members of the team adhered to his commitment, goalie spats would theoretically not exist.

But this theoretical scenario — every single player sacrificing his ego for the good of the team — is idealistic and impractical. In a time when athletes rise to the top of their sports through relative gains and power positioning, the belief that an entire team can just shed its egos and be completely selfless is unrealistic.

But no one told Kevin Peach that.

Let’s be frank; the Bears are underachieving. A promising start has given way to unfortunately-timed lapses in concentration and close losses. Cal is winless in conference play and lacks central leadership. But this Sunday against Washington, Kevin Peach was awarded the start after another rocky performance by Gogatz at Oregon State.

The Bears fell short once again, losing 1-0. But Peach played, well, peachy.

The Washington offensive attack was stifled as Peach managed six saves and only conceded a goal on a penalty kick. Although it was yet another loss, there was marked improvement in the play of the team. Spirits seemed up. The game showed a glimpse towards the future of the Cal men’s soccer team.

If there’s any silver lining, it appears that Peach and the Bears are moving in the right direction. And at this point, that’s all Cal can ask for.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Robby Gogatz is a junior. In fact, he is a redshirt sophomore.