After winning a second straight league championship and advancing to a Central Coast Section playoff title match last year, what could the Christopher High girls soccer team possibly do for an encore this season? How about winning a third consecutive league title and doing it in even more dominant fashion? So it is for the Cougars, who entered the week at 13-0-3 overall and 7-0-1 in the Pacific Coast League’s Gabilan Division.
How dominant have the Cougars been in league play this season? Through their first eight matches, they’ve outscored the competition 23-1, and that goal came in their eighth league match against Watsonville High on Feb. 7. It’s been an incredible ride for Christopher, which hopes to finish the deal this season and win a CCS championship for the first time in program history. Cougars coach Matt Oetinger delivered high praise regarding this year’s squad.
“As good as last year’s team was—and they were fantastic—this year’s team from top to bottom is better,” he said. “It’s deeper, has slightly more skill and even has had better results. Last year’s team was terrific in reaching a CCS final. Will this year’s team be able to win the championship? We certainly hope so.”
The depth and skill of the Christopher side was on display against Salinas, which played the Cougars to a 0-0 draw in the teams’ first match on Jan. 13. For a while, it looked as if things were headed that way once again in the rematch. However, senior Elise Engquist pounced on a loose ball in front of the Salinas goal before slotting the ball into the lower right corner for the only goal of the game in the 65th minute.
Jenna Urrabazo, who has emerged as one of the premier forwards in the section, had a free kick just outside the 18-yard box after Salinas was called for a penalty. Urrabazo made a pinpoint, diagonal pass to the left, and after a brief scramble, Engquist alertly beat everyone to the ball and delivered an unstoppable shot for the game-winner. Christopher controlled the run of play and had a huge time of possession advantage.
However, Salinas played tough and physical, which is exactly what the Cougars needed because that is what they’ll be facing in every match in the CCS playoffs. Several players needed ice packs to help relieve soreness for the next day, a clear sign of the physical nature of the contest.
“I was very proud of the girls because they kept grinding and played hard,” Oetinger said. “Salinas is a tough, well-coached team, and they battle. We’re superior from a skill set point of view, and it showed.”
The depth of the team showed, as players like Urrabazo, Engquist, Hanna Crawford, Fatimah Ahmad, Bethany Urrabazo, Jaden Carillo, Taylor Mejia, Aesha Sandoval, Samantha Rabusin and Sophia Jimenez made plays throughout the contest. Goalkeeper Jordan Anaya was her usual solid self, making all of the necessary plays to thwart any Salinas shot and at the same time delivering goalie kicks to help jump-start every Christopher possession. In addition to being able to grind out a victory against a tough team, Oetigner was proud of the players for being disciplined and smart.
“This team has a high soccer IQ,” Oetinger said. “(The day before the Salinas game) we had a chalk talk, and we went over specific plays for the girls to implement in the game. Then you see them execute it, and as a coach you can’t ask for more than that.”
Jenna Urrabazo has had a breakout sophomore season, averaging nearly two goals a game. Not even recent Cougars standout Aurea Martin—who is now playing at Northwestern—had a sophomore season as prolific as Urrabazo. Teams are marking Urrabazo in a way that makes Oetinger marvel at times.
“Hollister had four girls on her; it was unbelievable,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like that before. The great thing is when teams do that, Jenna is going to find the open person, and that leads to scoring opportunities for players like Bethany, Jaden, Elise and Sam. And if teams leave one defender on Jenna, she is going to eat them alive.”
Mejia and Sandoval have been holding things down in the midfield, and they’re constantly making good things happen. Ahmad, Crawford, Rabusin and Skyler Turiello have also made a huge impact. Oetinger also likes the fact that the players take well to constructive criticism. Case in point: Ahmad wasn’t having a stellar first half against Salinas and got pulled out of the game. After the coaches talked to her at halftime, Ahmad made some adjustments and was rock-solid in her play the rest of the way.
“Fatimah is really intelligent with the ball on her feet, and she really took her game up a notch in the second half,” Oetinger said. “She did exactly what the coaches explained to her, and credit to her for making it happen.”