Girls soccer talent is abundant in the city of Gilroy, and the proof is in the success of the high school teams. Christopher and Gilroy are both a win away from meeting each other in the Central Coast Section Division III championship match.
The Cougars (6-0-1) are the top seed and play a home match against No. 5 Monte Vista Christian (7-4-1) on Wednesday at 4:30pm, while the No. 6 seed Mustangs (3-2) play at home against No. 7 San Benito (7-3-1) at 7:30pm. Both sides advanced after Saturday’s opening-round matches, which saw CHS beat Nueva 4-0 and GHS edge Wilcox, 1-0. By Wednesday night, local soccer fans will know if the dream matchup materializes.
“That’s a scenario I’ve been playing over and over in my head,” Mustangs coach Efren Pineda said. “It would be one of those movie themes of us being the underdog going against the big dog Christopher.”
Cougars coach Matt Oetinger got his wish in not wanting his team to be placed in the Open Division. Now CHS is the odds-on favorite to bring home its first section title in program history.
“This is a good group of girls, and I would especially love for our seniors to go out with that type of story, winning a CCS championship,” Oetinger said.
Against an overmatched Nueva squad, CHS received goals from Carlie Silva, Kaiya Stewart, Jenna Urrabazo and Aesha Sandoval. The Mustangs, meanwhile, looked like they were headed to overtime until Maddie Eastus scored in the 79th minute. It was a beautiful play which started with Lexi Wilson beating her defender on the right flank.
Wilson then passed to a streaking Eastus in the middle of the field, and the fleet-footed forward beat one defender before holding off a second to get inside the 18-yard box. She then slotted a left-footed shot across her body to stun Wilcox and send the Mustangs home in jubilation.
Both squads have battled adversity with injuries to get to this point. CHS has looked rock-solid, as it has conceded only one goal all season. Defenders Hanna Crawford, Bethany Urrabazo and Jessica Schween along with goalkeeper Jordan Anaya have not only limited opponents’ goals but scoring chances as well. Forwards Jenna Urrabazo and Kaiya Stewart have meshed well up top in drawing the attention of the opposition, leaving opportunities for their teammates to score.
That’s exactly what Jaden Carrillo has done, as the senior left winger has used her potent left foot to score and place shots on goal. Oetinger said Taylor Mejia is the “straw that stirs the drink” because of her all-around play and intangibles, while Sandoval has also been a reliable player.
Oetinger credits the selflessness of the players for the team’s success, pointing to players like Schween who were asked to play a different position this season. Although it has played only seven matches, CHS took on West Catholic League powers St. Francis—beating the Lancers 1-0—and played Valley Christian to a 0-0 draw. That’s pretty heady stuff for any team, let alone one with a roster that Oetinger said is down to 13 to 14 players.
Since players are competing for the high school and club at the same time, Oetinger has made recovery a focal point, incorporating weekly Yoga sessions which are led by assistant coach Darlene DelCarmen.
“We’re seeing a lot of soft tissue injuries as a result from overwork so we’ve gone out of our way doing a lot of recovery,” Oetinger said. “We’re getting everybody stretched out to minimize the impact on their bodies as much as we can.”
For Gilroy, the future has arrived early. With several freshmen and sophomores in the lineup, the Mustangs are set up to have a sustained run of success. Of course, everything starts up top with Eastus, who has accounted for nearly all of the team’s goals this season. However, Pineda said freshman Dahlia Saavedra, a center mid and striker, is capable of making teams pay if they double or triple team Eastus.
Another freshman, Mary Jane Porter, is a versatile talent who can play wing, midfielder and striker.
“These are big, physical girls who will be dominant players in the midfield and the attack going forward,” Pineda said.
Maddie Krejdovsky is another freshman talent and plays a holding midfielder position. Sophomores Ashley Trujillo and Vianey Garcia along with junior Lexi Wilson and freshman Lali Diaz have made an impact on defense, and junior Camberly Jhonson—though inexperienced coming from the volleyball team—has developed into a solid goalkeeper.
In the off-season, Pineda had the players reach out to athletes in other sports to try to find a potential goalkeeper, and Jhonson—who played on the volleyball team—has filled an important need.
“She’s a great athlete who came in and fit like a glove,” Pineda said. “She’s got good height, good hops and she can move. She doesn’t have the diving aspect of being a goalie yet, but she has the basics where we can play out of the back like any top goalie can do.”
Senior Sarah Fox has been a stalwart in the program and is often matched up against the opposing team’s fastest player because of her field awareness and defense. Gilroy has played even fewer games than Christopher, losing to the Cougars twice by one goal while defeating San Benito 5-0 and Sobrato 1-0 in the regular-season.