After meteoric rise, Mohonasen esports team will keep growing

Mohonasen High School esports team member coach Andrew Cancilla, left, Noah Solt, Josh Bustelos, Blake Gannon, Matthew Kriss, and Angelo Maimone were honored Thursday.

Mohonasen High School esports team member coach Andrew Cancilla, left, Noah Solt, Josh Bustelos, Blake Gannon, Matthew Kriss, and Angelo Maimone were honored Thursday.

Mohonasen High School’s Rocket League team began three years ago. Back then, it could not even be called a team — it was just one student who walked into the school’s Nintendo Club with his Xbox, determined to play Rocket League, a vehicular video game in which three players work as a team to score goals and defend their own goal. Now, the team is collecting trophies and medals following an impressive finish in the Final Four of the PlayVS National Tournament of Rocket League.

The team, made up of students Noah Solt, Matthew Kriss, Blake Gannon, Angelo Maimone and Josh Bustelos, was honored Thursday at the Mohonasen Center for Advanced Technology. The all-male team was joined by their coaches, families and other staff as Bill Vacca, Mohonasen’s director of Instructional Technology, praised their expertise and collaboration throughout the tournament.

“It’s not just incredible with your actual thumbs and joysticks and how you play the game, but your communication is legendary,” Vacca said in his remarks recognizing the team’s efforts.

The Rocket League team finished fourth in the nation after the California state champions, one of the top high school esports teams, surpassed them in the semifinals in May. But despite their defeat, the team views their competition run as one of great opportunity, especially when it comes to college scholarships.

“My hope for this specific team is that I want to get them scholarships,” Vacca said in an interview. “Their skill set is so good I want them to be able to continue this to where they go to college and be a part of whatever program and hopefully get them some good funding to get there.”

Matthew Kriss, one of the juniors on the team, is keeping his esports experience in mind as he begins to look ahead to college.

“I’m super happy esports is becoming a bigger thing and colleges are looking into this type of stuff because it really does take a lot of skill,” Kriss said. “I hope to one day get a scholarship.”

Marianne Scolaro, mother of team captain Noah Solt, admits that she was initially skeptical about her son getting involved with a video game team. Now, after watching him lead and work together with his teammates, she realizes it is much more than she could have ever imagined.

“It has really opened up opportunities for him, and possibly scholarships for college, so it’s definitely taken him to a place where I never anticipated,” she said.

Mohonasen’s esports program also has teams that play other games like Madden NFL, League of Legends and Super Smash Bros.

This summer, Mohonasen will offer a Rocket League course for any student from sixth grade to 12th grade. The program will run three hours a day for one week and its aim is to draw in other middle and high schoolers to learn the mechanics of Rocket League, acquire communication strategies and begin practicing.

They also hope to begin streaming each game online next season in order to encourage more public attention and also to create clips and compilations for college scholarship applications.

But scholarships, summer courses, and streaming aside, the boys are simply excited about their accomplishments and to be recognized by their families and school.

“I’m glad we are being appreciated,” Kriss said. “We went from nothing to winning two state finals and top four in the nation, which was huge for us.”

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