Christopher High a rising soccer power

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POTENT SCORER Christopher High sophomore striker Jenna Urrabazo scored six goals in the first four games of the season, a testament to her talent, hard work and determination. Urrabazo will no doubt be the focus of opposing teams, much as Aurea Martin was last season.

Jenna Urrabazo spent last year being mentored by Aurea Martin, who is now playing at Northwestern University. Urrabazo, a Christopher High sophomore striker, was like a sponge, taking in everything that Martin said and did, whether it was in practice or in a match. When the Cougars played their final game of the season last February—a 1-0 loss to Menlo School in the Central Coast Section Division I championship game—the torch had officially been passed from Martin to Urrabazo.

The flame is burning brighter than ever. Christopher went 2-0-2 in its first four games of the season, with Urrabazo essentially accounting for all of the team’s goals (she scored six and the seventh was an own goal courtesy of an opponent). Safe to say, Urrabazo has taken what Martin showed her and ran with it.

“I had many questions for Aurea last season, and she helped me during games,” Urrabazo said. “During halftime she would draw something up on the white board, and now I’m in her spot teaching other girls where to go and kind of being that mentor for them. I definitely learned from her and her actions, and it definitely reflected on me. Now I get to share that information and pass it down to other girls.”

When a program’s top players are willing to help develop the squad’s next generation of standouts, that’s how a program keeps on winning. It’s no coincidence the Cougars have been on the upswing for the better part of four years, and they show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Coach Matt Oetinger said last year’s Martin-Urrabazo connection is a perfect example of what makes high school sports unique and sets it apart from a high level academy or club team.

“A lot of times in club you’re in the same age groups and there really is no tutelage from an on field point of view,” Oetinger said. “And I think Jenna benefited a lot from watching and playing with Aurea, especially toward the end of last season when you saw the dam start to break with Jenna, and now she’s full tilt. She’s extremely dangerous in the final third of the field, and she’s shown a real level of high maturity as a sophomore in her ability to move the goalie. She can get the goalie moving one way while she moves the other way. That sounds kind of basic, but at the height of the moment—you’re talking nanoseconds—it’s not easy to keep your cool under those conditions. But Jenna really has so far this season.”

Even though the Cougars graduated a couple of terrific senior starters off last year’s team, they returned several key players and also have been aided by an influx of fresh faces. That’s enough for the team to bump up expectations this season.

“I feel like the greatest strength with this team is our balance from top to bottom,” Oetinger said. “We have extremely high level players on every level of the field, and that makes us a difficult team to beat.”

It’s hard to argue with that statement. Christopher is the two-time defending Gabilan Division champions and the odds-on favorite to win a third consecutive championship. They’re talented, deep and tough. In the team’s last game, a 2-1 win over Menlo-Atherton, Taylor Mejia and Sam Rabusin scored goals, with Urrabazo assisting on both of them. Senior wing Elise Engquist and freshman wing Carlie Silva play with great pace and have the ability to make things happen.

“Elise is a complete player,” Oetinger said. “She’s incredibly fit, strong, fast and has a hard, accurate shot. Quite frankly, she has something you can’t teach, which is a work ethic that just doesn’t quit.”

On Silva, Oetinger noted how the team in each of the last four years has inherited at least one freshman who has made a significant impact. He said Silva happens to be a top freshman who can develop into a scoring threat.

“We’re planning on a third (straight) league title, and part of how that has happened is we’re extremely fortunate every year to have a strong group of freshman girls come in,” he said.

Sophomore Aesha Sandoaval plays the attacking central midfielder role, and has come on strong this season. Sandoval possesses one of the hardest shots on the team and has a cannon for a leg.

“Last year Aesha contributed for us, but we always felt like we weren’t getting everything she had to offer,” Oetinger said. “Things didn’t quite click yet. She’s come back a different player. She’s active, has a nice soccer IQ and made tremendous improvement in the off-season. We’re very much looking forward to see what she does this year.”

Oetinger describes senior wing/outside back Sam Rabusin as a “heart and soul type player who is needed on every team.” Rabusin starts the game in fifth gear and never lets up, and is known for being reliable and consistent all across the board. The Cougars have welcomed back two familiar faces in seniors Fatimah Ahmad and Jessica Bright. Ahmad is an outside back who can push up into the offense and has plenty of speed to hurt opponents. Bright plays left back and has plenty to offer after taking last year off from soccer. Ahmad brings a feistiness that every team needs to be successful. She played with the team in her freshman and sophomore year, but didn’t play on the squad last season.

“Fati is super tough and to borrow an ice hockey phrase, she’s got a lot of sandpaper in her game,” Oetinger said. “She’s a gritty, gritty player who has no problems with physicality.”

Sophomore Taylor Mejia returns as a central midfielder, providing a reliable and consistent presence. She continues to improve and distributes the ball well, helping the team maintain the possession for long stretches at a time. Junior Jaden Carillo plays an instrumental role on the team as does defenders Hanna Crawford and Bethany Urrabazo, who is the older sister of Jenna and a Live Oak High-transfer.

“Bethany is a center back and has been a fantastic addition to the team,” Oetinger said. “With her playing next to Hanna, you’d be hard-pressed to find two better center backs on the same team. They’re both fantastic.”

As is junior goalkeeper Jordan Anaya, who has been a starter since her freshman year and continually improves her game. A field hockey standout in the fall, Anaya’s seminal performance came in the team’s scoreless draw with Aptos in the CCS playoffs last year—Christopher advanced on penalty kicks, 3-2—in which she stuffed a couple of shots to help send the Cougars into a state of nirvana.

“You can’t overstate how much confidence a team plays with when you have one of the best goalies in the CCS on your side,” Oetinger said.

Christopher will be further strengthened if senior Natalie Smith ends up returning to the squad.

“If we’re able to put her onto the squad, that would be an incredible gift to get back,” Oetinger said.

As the word gets out on Jenna Urrabazo’s exploits, teams will no doubt focus their efforts to make sure she doesn’t beat them. That will mean other players will get opportunities to score and make plays, which Oetinger welcomes.

“Clearly, we lost some high-profile seniors, but I think this team on average has better ability and higher soccer IQ,” Oetinger said. “If us as coaches can get all the puzzle pieces in the right place, I think this team can make a run to the title game and win it.”

Oetinger said assistant coaches Darlene Del Carmen and Alfredo Echauri have been instrumental in the team’s success and helping to build a strong culture within the program. The Christopher program has never been in a better place because of the talent that comes in and the coaches who work with the players to continually improve. Jenna Urrabazo has done something not even Martin did last year—account for all of the team’s goals through the first four games of the season.

A year ago, Urrabazo went a long stretch before she scored her first high school goal. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. She had dozens of chances, but couldn’t finish. When Urrabazo finally found the net midway through the season, she gained confidence and never looked back. Now she looks to be one of the premier scoring threats in the league.

“I’ve come a long way from my freshman year,” she said. “In the first half of my freshman year, I don’t know if it was nerves or something, but I wasn’t able to score. But with the help of the coaches, I’ve been better at getting 1V1s, which has helped me score this season.”

Urrabazo isn’t going to lie: she was a bit worried entering the season, knowing she was taking Martin’s spot and a lot of the scoring load would be thrust upon her shoulder early on. It’s a huge responsibility and challenge that Urrabazo has passed with flying colors.

“I was a bit scared because it’s a lot of pressure to have a lot of people look up to you as a sophomore to score a lot of the goals,” she said. “But (after a couple of games) I’m not nervous anymore because I have faith in my team to help me score and knowing it’s not just going to be me. I’ll have help all through the season.”

Jenna has had a fun season in more ways than one. Bethany played at Live Oak the last two years, but the sisters—just 15 months apart—are playing together on a high school team for the first time.

“It’s been great,” Jenna said. “I’m glad she’s here now because we’re really close. We also play on the same club team, and we’re more in touch when we communicate with each other because we know each other so well and practice together a lot.”

Even though Christopher had a terrific season last year, the ending didn’t go as planned. The 1-0 loss to Menlo School—while tough—will only serve to motivate the team’s title quest this season.

“There were definitely a lot of tears that were shed after that game because we had worked so hard to get there,” Jenna said. “We were driven to win CCS. We were happy we got to the finals last year, but this year we’re looking to take that ‘W’ in the finals. I feel like we have as good a team now as we did last year, if not better.”

Elise Engquist has earned praise from her coaches for having an indefatigable work ethic.
Sam Rabusin has been a key contributor who plays with plenty of energy from start to finish.
Sophomore Taylor Mejia scored a goal last Saturday against Menlo-Atherton.