Christopher on verge of special run

Christopher sophomore Natalie Smith was a steadying presence throughout the season.

For the Christopher High girls soccer program, the 2017-2018 season might be just the beginning of what could be a historic two- or three-year stretch—or something even beyond. Even though the Cougars saw their season come to an end last Saturday in the form of a 4-3 double overtime loss to Leigh in a Central Coast Section Division I playoff quarterfinal, they’ve got plenty to be proud of and to look forward in the next couple of years.

“Unless something dramatically changes, next season our goals will be to win league again and win CCS,” Christopher coach Matt Oetinger said.

And why not? The Cougars graduate just one starter off this year’s outstanding team, which finished 13-5-2 in winning a Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division championship for the first time in program history. Junior striker Aurea Martin scored all three of the team’s goals against No. 3 seed Leigh, which connected early in the second overtime period to decide the outcome.

“We had a couple of really juicy scoring opportunities there at the end, but just couldn’t get a foot on it,” Oetinger said. “Obviously, losing in double overtime is rough, but the girls gave us everything they had. In light of what the girls accomplished this season and the two CCS playoff games, I’m real happy with their performance.”

Oetinger was particularly proud of the team’s 2-0 win over Leland in the opening round. Isabella Jimenez and Natalie Smith scored for the Cougars, who earlier in the season had a hard time winning if Martin didn’t score.

“Quite frankly, if we played against Leland earlier in the season, we would’ve lost a game like that,” Oetinger said. “The coaching staff was really happy with the evolution of the team, which has a lot to do with the comfort level amongst the players. … As the season wore on, we had more and more girls willing and able to take the shot and go full bore.”

One only has to look at who was on the field for the Cougars’ final game of the season to realize just how incredibly bright the future is for the program. Two freshmen—Jordan Anaya and Hanna Crawford—started, while another, Jaden Carrillo, entered in the 20th minute and never came off the field.

“I feel really good about this squad for the next couple of years for sure,” Oetinger said. “Even though we had quite a bit of talented girls from multiple classes, it goes beyond Xs and Os. They had to respect each other as teammates rather than classmates. If there were factions on this team, there was no way they were going to achieve what they achieved. They came together as a unit, and that was the key.”

Martin was simply dynamite, finishing with 29 goals. It was an incredible accomplishment considering Martin often did it while attracting two to four defenders wherever she went. That opened up a lot of space for her teammates, which is why Martin finished with over 10 assists on the season. Against Leigh, Martin was unstoppable.

“The nature of the beast in sports generally is your best players have to be at their best in the playoffs, and that’s what we saw from Aurea,” Oetinger said.

Smith proved to be an impact player as a sophomore midfielder. As one of the team’s leaders in assists, Smith has a strong soccer acumen, having played the game since she was 3. What Smith enjoyed the most about this season and last season was reuniting with several of the players who she used to play with years ago.

“It was everyone reuniting, and just kind of remembering our youth playing days,” she said.

What stood out the most for Smith—besides the overall scope of the season—was the team’s first game against Gilroy in January, a 4-1 win.

“That was the most memorable game and probably one of the most emotional games for us,” she said.

Smith started at forward during her freshman season, and did a solid job of making through runs, crossing the ball and taking corner kicks. However, with midfielder being her natural position, Smith started in the midfield during her sophomore season, and she was strong as usual.

Smith had one of the team’s two goals against Leland, and she worked well together with fellow midfielder Alessandra Echauri. The two made for a dynamic combo, and should both return next season—along with Martin—making the Cougars a legitimate threat to win a CCS playoff title.

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