Coming off its greatest season in program history—where have you heard that one before?—the Christopher High girls soccer team looks to ascend even greater heights now that it is playing in the Blossom Valley Athletic League’s Mount Hamilton Division, which along with the West Catholic Athletic League are the best for girls soccer in the Central Coast Section.
Last season, Mount Hamilton champion Leigh won the CIF NorCal Regional Division II title to cap a 19-1-2 season. Leland, which finished a close second to Leigh, was also slotted in the Central Coast Section’s Open Division and lost to perennial power St. Francis in their opener, 2-1.
Meanwhile, Christopher won the Pacific Coast League’s Gabilan Division title for the third time in four years, repeated as CCS champions and captured its first CIF NorCal Division IV title, 1-0 over Pioneer, which was the fourth-place finisher out of the Mount Hamilton. Cougars coach Matt Oetinger knows the new division they’re entering is a step above the league they were playing in previously and presents a supreme challenge for the program.
However, blessed with a strong returning core and a potential star-studded freshmen class, Christopher could very well be a player in the Mount Hamilton this season.
“The talent we have, when we finally get the right players in the right places and they get used to playing with each other, I think this team can compete with anyone in the CCS,” Oetinger said.
Now in his seventh season as the head coach and ninth overall with the program, Oetinger said he and his longtime trusted assistants Alfredo Echauri and Darlene Del Carmen couldn’t have asked for a better roster replenishment after the team graduated stalwarts Jenna Urrabazo, Aesha Sandoval and Taylor Mejia.
Not only did the Cougars return several starters led by seniors Kaiya Stewart, Carlie Silva and Rainelyn Antipuesto, but they’ve been boosted by a terrific freshmen class which features Malia Harding, Addy Mosher, Deijah Menchaca and Kyla Velasco.
“All four freshmen are really high level players,” Oetinger said. “We’re moving parts around for what is best for this team, but it would not surprise me if most if not all four started at some point this season.”
The influx of talented newcomers has eased the losses of the class of 2022 standouts.
“When you lose sort of those iconic figures like Jenna, Taylor and Aesha, players of those caliber, it’s pretty naive to think you’re going to go out and replace them the next year because they were so amazing with the rarity of their play, but we really did reload with this freshmen class,” Oetinger said.
And Christmas came early for the team when senior central defensive midfielder Valerie Aguilar—a San Jose State-commit—decided to come out and play for the first time for the high school.
“That was big for us,” Oetinger said. “She and her sister went through Christopher and we had heard about them for years. So, we couldn’t be happier. Her skill set is really next level and it’s huge to have a player of her caliber after all those other players departed.”
The team has one other college-commit for soccer in Stewart, the standout Boston University-bound forward who was playing up top with Harding in the team’s season-opening 1-0 win over Gilroy on Nov. 29. Stewart is a prolific goal-scorer and dynamic on so many levels.
Sophomore Ella Oetinger can play defender or midfielder and will likely see plenty of time in both areas of the field this season as the team coalesces. The sophomore is lethal on set pieces, which often separate the best teams from the above average ones.
“We’re really fortunate we have Ella with her precision and power she has on her set piece kicks, which is really a great tool for us,” Matt Oetinger said. “We’ll get a lot of opportunities on corner and free kicks, so it’s just a matter of the rest of the team getting on the end of those kicks.”
The Cougars scored a lot of goals off set pieces a year ago and look to be even better in that area this season. Antipuesto, a winger, had a breakout 2021-2022 season and scored off a header from the far side off Oetinger’s corner kick in the GHS match.
Silva and Sophie Gonzalez are standout returning outside backs, possess high work rates and are strong on the ball. Velasco and senior Emma Davis give the team quality at the center back position, and junior Madison Guerriero started at right back in the opener.
CHS has a wealth of talent at goalkeeper, where returning starter Ella Donohue is joined by Mosher and junior Victoria Ogieriakhi to form a formidable trio of backstoppers.
“We’ve never had three goalies and quite frankly all three are very good,” Oetinger said. “Any three of them can be a starter on 90 percent of all the varsity teams in the section, and it just so happened all land with us in the same year. We’re going to try to have competition just like at any other position and see who our starter is, but it’s definitely an amazing facet of the team.”
To put into perspective the team’s talent level—which includes returning senior Cloey Turiello—there was a moment in the third week of practice when the players put together a beautiful sequence of one-touch passes that would undoubtedly lead to prime goal-scoring opportunities in matches.
“It was just textbook and all three of us looked at each other and started laughing because in the early days we would never even conceptualize having this much talent all at once,” Oetinger said.
Before CHS plays its league opener on Jan. 3, Oetinger will have mixed and matched different lineups and combinations as the team meshes through non-league competition. No one will ever complain of having too much talent, but it does present some scenarios for coaches to work through.
“We’re trying to solve the Rubik’s cube that is this team right now,” Oetinger said. “We’re definitely in the process of finding out what is the best combination for these girls and getting to play a system that is very fluid.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]