In the midst of a 5-0 loss to San Benito High in a Jan. 10 Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division match, Gilroy High sophomore Sarah Fox kept on competing for 50-50 balls, playing as feisty as ever. It’s going to take that type of effort in every match for the Mustangs to post some quality results for the rest of the season.
“We’re a young team and rebuilding,” Mustangs coach Roney Cardoza said. “We’re not as strong as the top teams in the league, but we have some good players and we’re setting up well for next year.”
With a roster blending players from each grade level—including seven juniors, five freshmen, four seniors and two sophomores—the Mustangs hope they’ll coalesce and become stronger as the season goes along. Kelly Nebesnick, a junior captain, plays strong on the ball and possesses solid footwork. Cardoza hopes Nebesnick can stay healthy, as she has battled some injuries early in the season.
“Kelly in the midfield is good at attacking and defending,” Cardoza said. “Most kids do one or the other, but Kelly does both.”
The team’s other captain, sophomore Maddie Eastus, plays striker and has the ability to create scoring opportunities for the team. Eastus is also strong on the ball and has excellent vision, allowing her to make solid passes and get to certain spots on the field that increases her chances of making an impact play. Eastus changes the field well, sees the passing lanes and competes hard for 50-50 balls.
“Maddie is always out there looking for ways to create opportunities for the team to score,” Cardoza said. “She has a calmness on the field and the ability to read the game and slow it down, which allows her to score. No matter what speed the game is going at, she’s great at slowing the game down.”
Tatianna Cardoza, a junior midfielder, scored nine goals last season and entered the first week of league play with two scores, both on free kicks. Roney said Tatianna’s free kicks are so lethal that the team wisely has an offensive strategy on set plays utilizing her leg.
“She’s a lefty that bends the ball correctly, so on any dead ball she gives us a scoring opportunity (from 40 yards and in),” Roney Cardoza said. “Sometimes we’ll look to Maddie for a header or just pop the ball straight in off the kick.”
Olivia Bozzo, a junior fullback, possesses speed, solid footwork and makes sound decisions.
“Olivia is an amazing, great kid,” Cardoza said. “She’s always giving positive feedback to the girls and I have her at center back even though it’s not her normal position. But I have her there because she has more experience than the rest and is pretty fast.”
Cardoza said junior fullback Aphrodite Ayala plays with a level of intensity every team needs to be successful. Ayala sacrifices her body on defense and takes control of the back line as one of the main communicators. Junior Amaya Raoof and senior Korynn Yslava have split time at goalkeeper, and Raoof had a solid game against San Benito.
Even though the Haybalers scored five goals, Raoof didn’t have a chance at most of them since they were high percentage shots from close range. Both Raoof and Yslava are first-year goalkeepers, putting the onus on the rest of the team to play high-level defense. Cardoza feels optimistic about the future because of players like freshman wing Lexi Wilson, who has provided a boost with her energetic play.
“Lexi works harder than the average player,” Cardoza said. “She plays taller than she is and is stronger than what she looks like. It’s a great positive to have her here and I think she has a bright future.”
Isabella Domingues, a junior wing, entered the program having never played soccer. However, Domingues has caught on fast to make an impact.
“Isabella is working her butt off and gives an all-out effort,” Cardoza said. “She and Lexi never miss practice, and that is really important.”
With a small roster that has been hit hard by injuries, it’s going to take the team’s most experienced players—Eastus, as an example—to elevate the play of the squad. Eastus started playing soccer at age 4 and was on a Vision Academy club team that won a state and national cup tournament in its age group and division last summer.
Eastus played on a different team of all stars that went to Spain and won a tournament there. Eastus knows playing for Gilroy High will challenge her in different ways than playing for a club team.
“I’m working with them and trying to get them to their highest level,” Eastus said. “It’s a learning experience and I have to stay patient. I’ve been working on my game awareness, speed, sprinting skills, dribbling and moving forward. Playing high school soccer is helping me become more of a leader, which is what D1 colleges want to see.”
Eastus constantly works on her skills, including going 1-on-1 and creating scoring opportunities for herself and her teammates. Eastus rarely gets winded on the field, a byproduct of competing in cross country since the sixth grade. This past season Eastus had a terrific cross country season, posting a personal-record 21 minutes at Christmas Hill Park and taking 33rd in the Pacific Coast League Championships in 21:50 at Toro Park in Salinas. Eastus has a terrific role model when it comes to staying fit and playing sports in her mom, Jana, who is a Crossfit trainer and competes in elite Spartan races.