Prep soccer: Gilroy girls charge ahead after last year’s woes

Gilroy's Alexi Slattery battles for the ball with San Benito's Chace Miguel during their game Friday.

GILROY—Heading into last season Gilroy had won seven straight league titles. It had all the pieces in place and was ready to clear space in the gym for another banner. But for the Mustangs, last season was a nightmare dressed as a daydream.
Gilroy not only lost five of its first six games to start the season, but the injury bug took out two of its top players—Connie Contreras and Alexi Slattery. It was a lot for first-year head coach John Slattery to handle, but this year the clouds have parted and the future is looking bright.
“I’m actually looking forward to this year,” John said. “I think with the new girls that we’ve got and the girls that had last year—I think now they have more confidence—I think in league we’re going to do real well.”
The Mustangs only lost three players to graduation—including Contreras—and have a strong core returning. They will be lead by senior captains Alexi Slattery and Jackie Gomez and will have senior leadership in net behind Victoria Rodriguez.
Gilroy will also get Tayler Silacci, a field hockey stud and life-long defender, back this season and she’ll be joined by teammates Katrina Carter, Kami Humphrey and Ellie Sausen, adding tenacity into an already tough roster. Jessica Kopple, Angela Leonardo and Monica Ruelas, all freshmen last year, now have a year of varsity experience under their belts and will be joined by Lizette Alcantar and Silvia Rivera. Both were also freshman last year, but only practiced with varsity and played with the JV team.
There are also brand new faces to the team this year like Iris Aparicio who John said is “something special.” The buzz about the team has spread through campus and girls turned out in droves to join. For the first time in his three years at GHS, John had to make cuts. The big turnout has helped add depth to the roster—something it lacked when things got tough last year.
All the pieces seem to be falling into place for Gilroy, but it knows talent only gets you so far.
“We’re out here to work hard and play hard to win that title back, but we’re going to have fun doing it,” Alexi said. “We’re getting more girls from field hockey, so we have a lot of speed this year and we all know how to play the game.”
The Mustangs’ lone weak spot lies in the net, as Rodriguez doesn’t add much size to the position. But what she lacks in height, John said, she makes up in work ethic and attitude—and she’ll have strong protection in front of her, too.
“This year, we’re coming in with confidence,” John said. “It gives us a chance to push Sam Gonzales and Alexi up in the midfield where we can attack more. I think the goalie could be our toughest issue because she’s not the tallest, but she’s dedicated and fearless which is always what you want in that spot.”
But beyond the wins and the losses, John said he wants the girls to just have fun. He admitted that he put a lot of pressure to win on himself last year, but quickly realized that wasn’t the most important thing. He’s hoping that seeing a league championship as a goal—not an expectation—is something the girls can embrace and in turn will make for an enjoyable season all around.
So far, the team has bought in.
“We feel really positive because the girls are really athletic. Not that we weren’t before, just energy-wise it’s better,” Gomez said. “(We just need to fix) minor things. With the new girls, we all need to communicate with each other and things like that.”
Gilroy has wiped the slate clean of last season and are ready to tackle a new one. It kicks things off with the Watsonville Tournament, which runs from Dec. 1-6. It will then face a tough preseason schedule consisting of games against Aptos (Dec. 11), Archbishop Mitty (Dec. 15) and Live Oak (Dec. 18), before beginning its quest for a league title at 5:45 p.m. Dec. 18 against San Benito.
“I think it’s going to be a good test for us,” John said. “I really do feel like we have a good chance to win league—I really do. We’ve got to stay healthy, that’s the most important part.”
“We need to want it,” Alexi added. “I think last year it slipped away from us—I don’t know maybe the injuries and stuff got to us in our heads mentally. We need to want it and (we need to) just to work together to win the title back and have fun doing it.”