Gilroy sets the standard in South Valley

Gina Barbaglia has played well for the Mustangs. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The Gilroy High field hockey program has been one of the gold standards in the Central Coast Section for the better part of a decade. Part of the sustained excellence has to do with the standard set by longtime Mustangs coach Adam Gemar, who is in his 20th season at the helm. Gilroy entered the week with a 3-2 record—not counting four wins in the Leigh Tournament—and yet Gemar knows the team can take it to another level. 

“Except with the Saratoga game, I’m not happy with any of the wins because we’re not playing as a team,” he said. “I don’t care if we win, lose or draw, I just want us to play good hockey. It’s kind of a weird thing to say that we’re winning hockey games, but we’re not very good.  Right now we don’t have the best team chemistry yet, but hopefully that will change.”

Don’t get Gemar wrong: He was still effusive in his praise for the players, but he knows the potential of the team will only be reached if the players share the ball and work together. The Mustangs have no shortage of talent, starting with Cami Rogers, last year’s Gabilan Division Most Valuable Player. 

The senior center midfielder affects the game in a variety of ways, as she is adept with or without the ball and possessing strong stick skills. Of course, no team can win a league title without the services of a strong goalie, and senior Savanah Castro fits that description for the Mustangs.

“Savanah has come a long way,” Gemar said. “She’s doing all the right stuff, is positive and dedicated to the team.”

Korynn Yslava, a senior midfielder, possesses speed, stick skills and transitions from offense to defense and vice versa with an efficiency few players can match. Yslava said the players are as motivated as ever to win league and make a deep CCS playoff run. Yslava passes the ball effectively, often setting up teammates for scoring opportunities. 

“I have a lot of speed and if I have a breakaway, I can make a run to the goal or make a pass to set up a scoring chance,” said Yslava, who has made a verbal commitment to play at Newberry College, a Division II program in South Carolina. “The team is at our best when we pass a lot and if we’re communicating a lot.”

Yslava started playing the sport as a freshman, and back then she never thought she would play in college. However, Yslava caught the attention of some college programs when she played in a national recruiting tournament in Florida in January. From there, Yslava visited a handful of colleges, ultimately falling in love with Newberry. Gilroy has a standout sophomore in midfielder/forward Malia Mah, whose athleticism and drive make her a player to be reckoned with. 

“She scored a goal (against Christopher) in which she just cranked it,” Gemar said. “It was very powerful.”

Kelly Nebesnick, a senior defender, gets the job done through sheer effort and a determination that is second to none. Nebesnick is also a standout soccer and wrestler; earlier this year, she advanced to the girls wrestling state championships.

“Kelly doesn’t have the fancy moves, but she has tremendous vision and drive,” Gemar said. “Every time the ball is around her, it ends up on her stick.”

Forward Audrey Larson is part of a talented five-player junior class. Larson knows how to put the ball in the goal, as she possesses a potent flick shot. Gemar said midfielder Bella Domingues “is probably the second smartest player on the team besides Kelly.” While not possessing eye-popping talent, Domingues is a heady player and is armed with a well-rounded skill set that makes her a valuable member of the team. 

Midfielder Olivia Bozzo has played brilliantly at times, and fellow junior midfielder/forward Gina Barbaglia has produced some strong performances recently. 

“We’re loving what we’re seeing from these two players every game,” Gemar said. “Their attitude is great and their field hockey game is getting better.”

Athena Florez, a junior defender, knows how to play calm even when there are moments in each match that scream chaos. 

“She never rushes things,” Gemar said. “Skill-wise, every single person brings something to the table. We have a very skilled team, but chemistry can always kick us in the butt. When we play the Mitty’s of the world and get down (on the scoreboard), all of a sudden attitudes can come out. We have to be better than ourselves. We can’t be individuals in a team sport—that is our biggest weakness right now.”