John O'Connor is the third O'Connor kid George Larsen has coached in soccer. Larsen guided John's older sisters, Kaylee and Maddie, on the club level with the Newport Beach-based Slammers.
John plays for Larsen on the Corona del Mar High boys' team. When asked whether he, Kaylee or Maddie has the best strike, John says he doesn't know.
"They're both in college," Larsen says to John, telling him not to worry about his answer. "You won't hear from them."
John never really answers the question, but he does thank his sisters for taking up soccer. He says he began playing the sport at age 6 because of Kaylee and Maddie.
Maddie still competes, playing for UC Santa Barbara, where she is a freshman forward. The position is the same one John switched to for his senior season with the Sea Kings.
The move from the wing to up top has worked out for John. He leads the team with 10 goals and four assists.
"I haven't scored goals that you look at and are just like, 'Wow!'" he says.
The Sea Kings think otherwise. They have seen O'Connor deliver time after time this season, with his foot, his head and his passion. A rash of injuries has hit CdM and O'Connor continues to lift the team's spirit.
Going into Friday's Pacific Coast League match at Irvine, CdM (9-3-4, 3-0-2 in league) is in first place because of O'Connor. He has recorded a goal in four of the five league contests, and his favorite goal came at the start of last week.
It appeared CdM might finish in a tie for the third straight time in league, before Larsen says in the final minute O'Connor came through. And it didn't surprise Larsen that O'Connor produced the game-winning goal to beat Beckman, 2-1, at home.
"He's going to put himself in good spots throughout the game, and this one happen to come right at the end of the game when we needed it," Larsen says of the scoring chance coming right after a corner kick, with the ball popping back out to O'Connor. "It took composure to be able to get the ball in the goal because there wasn't a lot of space."
O'Connor made the most of the situation, and CdM, ranked No. 6 in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 poll, earned three points, instead of one.
The Sea Kings added another three points two days later. O'Connor broke another tie, this time late in the first half, yet host CdM needed to rally to defeat Northwood, 4-2.
"Given all [the injuries] that we've been dealing with, we're pretty pleased, especially after last week in responding the way we did, winning late and coming back from being down," says Larsen, who is looking to lead CdM to its third league title during his five seasons at the school. "Those are league-saving type of performances and some unexpected guys stepped up."
Larsen picked a good time to carry 31 players, which are the most during his time with the Sea Kings. Everyone on the roster has seen action because of injuries to key players.
The team's fourth-string goalkeeper, Tommy Casey, is the starter. Larsen says Casey took over for Gavin Allen, who broke his hand while warming up before a match. Talk about being unlucky. Allen, last season's starting keeper, is done for the season.
The Sea Kings are also without defender Jay Damon (mononucleosis), midfielder Mason Garell (turf toe), defender Nate Pozin (knee), and forwards Blake Munger (shoulder) and Brenden Hueston (sick).
Despite the losses, CdM hasn't dropped a match in more than a month. O'Connor credits the success to the team's depth with 25 seniors and the team's challenging nonleague schedule. The Sea Kings' three setbacks have come against San Clemente, Edison and El Toro, which are ranked No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5, respectively, in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 poll.
Some of CdM's impressive wins are against JSerra, a CIF Southern Section Division 1 semifinalist last season, and Fresno Central, a CIF Central Section Division I finalist last season. O'Connor totaled three goals and two assists in those matchups.
"That was more satisfying than any goal," O'Connor says of CdM traveling to JSerra and routing the Lions, 6-0, showing eight matches into the season that the Sea Kings have a special group. "If we're going to [make a run at winning a section title], this is obviously the year to do it. We have so many seniors.