The spotlight seems like it has long since shifted from the struggling Alta Loma High School football program.
But it was Oct. 7 of last year when the once proud Braves lost their 21st consecutive game. The losing streak was broken the next week and Alta Loma went on to a 2-8 season, during which definitive progress was evident under first-year coach Joe Szczepanski.
This season, the progression of the program appears undeniable. Alta Loma is off to a 4-1 start, the school’s best since going 5-0 to begin the 2005 season.
It deserves mention that Alta Loma’s nonleague schedule isn’t exactly a murder’s row, but that’s not the point, according to Szczepanski.
“After the program going 0-20, teaching them how to win is the first step,” he said, “and getting their confidence built up and getting some momentum going. A little self-confidence will go a long way.”
The season didn’t exactly begin with an influx of self-esteem. Alta Loma found itself on the business end of a 54-0 blowout at the hands of an Eisenhower team that won three games last year. Four weeks later, it turns out Eisenhower is a program on its way up, too.
Instead of the loss lulling them into the rhythm of the last few seasons, the Braves responded with their first four-game winning streak in seven years. Alta Loma defeated two Mt. Baldy League teams that likely will be in the mix for the league’s final playoff berth, took down Fontana and were even on the right side of a blowout against first-year program Grand Terrace last week.
“I mean obviously we know that the competition in the Baseline League is definitely a lot more than the level of what we’ve played so far,” Szczepanski said. “But we’re taking it one step at a time. We did a nice job of turning some things around and we’re off to a 4-1 start, but bottom line is that’s not going to get you into the playoffs.”
The next goal for Alta Loma is to end a league losing streak of 15 games. The Braves last Baseline League victory was the 2008 season finale.
With Inland Division titans Rancho Cucamonga and Upland in the league along with perennial playoff teams Los Osos and Etiwanda, the next hurdle is a big one. But the Braves nearly pulled it off last season in a heartbreaking 20-16 loss to Glendora.
Glendora appears much improved this season. So does Alta Loma.
“It’s a cutthroat league,” Szczepanski said. “I think we’re the lowest rated team in our division, but a lot of times people want to get Alta Loma on their schedule just so they can say they’re playing a Baseline League team. Hopefully we’re starting to get some of that respect back.”