The Christopher High girls soccer team knew its first season playing in the Blossom Valley Athletic League’s Mount Hamilton Division—one of only four A leagues in the entire Central Coast Section—was going to be a challenge.
After all, the Mount Hamilton is a step up from their previous league, the Pacific Coast League’s Gabilan Division, which for girls soccer is a B league. From a record standpoint, the Cougars haven’t been worldbeaters, finishing the regular-season 7-7-4 overall and 4-5-3 in league after a 1-0 loss to Leland High on Feb. 9.
However, Christopher is still a formidable squad and hopes it has an opportunity to end their season in the best way possible: with another CCS championship. The Cougars will have to rely on an at-large berth, but Prep2Prep—which tends to be remarkably accurate in their playoff projections and placements—currently has Christopher as the No. 7 seed in the Division II bracket.
With 43 points, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the Cougars don’t make it in. Assuming they make it—the playoff pairings will be released on Feb. 16 with opening-round games on the 18th—they’ll get their opportunity for a three-peat, having won the Division III title in 2021 and the Division II championship in 2022.
They’re the only team in the section that has won playoff titles in each of the last two seasons, and coach Matt Oetinger hopes his side plays like it did in a 3-1 win over perennial power Leigh High on Jan. 31, the Longhorns’ only loss in league play.
“This team went into Leigh High School and handed them soundly their only [league] defeat of the season and it evolved through fluid, connected play, everybody basically giving everything they had in the moment and the success occurred,” Oetinger said. “So the conclusion I draw is that when this team plays connected and plays all in, there’s literally nobody in this league better than us.”
“But we have trouble as a team doing that with any regularity or consistency, and I’m not sure as to the why of it. If I knew the why of it, I would do everything to correct it. But heading into CCS and where we’ll be seeded, there’s potential for this team to three-peat. But it’s going to take that style of play, going to take being connected, everybody giving it everything they have for 80 minutes three games in a row to make that happen.”
Throughout the years, Oetinger’s preference is to utilize several subs in most matches. However, he said the ultra-tough competition in the Mount Hamilton doesn’t afford him that luxury and as such most of the time it’s the starting lineup and one to two other girls who are always on the field.
“The margin for error is so small that it forces us to play the players we feel have the best chance under the circumstances,” he said. “It makes it hard to utilize our bench and we rely heavily on a few girls which I’m not a big fan of, but that’s the reality of trying to compete in this league.”
Oetinger noted the play of senior Kaiya Stewart, a Boston University-commit, and freshman Malia Harding as key players up top. Stewart is a premier talent and just needs a glimmer of daylight to put a dangerous shot on goal or deliver a pass with remarkable accuracy to a teammate for a score.
“Kaiya has been real critical and instrumental for us and is having a strong senior year,” Matt Oetinger said.
Sophomore Ella Oetinger, Matt’s daughter, has followed up a solid freshman season with an equally impressive sophomore year. Oetinger takes all of the team’s set pieces and against Leland delivered several accurate balls to the 18-yard box for scoring opportunities while also unleashing some shots on goal via free kicks from 30 yards and beyond.
Oetinger has played all over the field and is particularly needed on the defensive side of the ball.
“Ella has been a real key piece of the puzzle,” Matt said. “Ella and Malia are the big building blocks for the program in the next two to three years.”
Junior goalkeeper Ella Donohue has come a long way since her freshman season, and is clearly playing with more confidence even though her coaches implore her to be a little more aggressive at times in coming off her line.
“One of Ella’s strengths is she has very strong reactions as far as reaction saves, where the ball is coming in quick, fast or hot, and you just don’t have time to think,” Oetinger said. “You just have to throw your hand down or foot and it’s pure, instinctual reaction. She’s good at that.”
Outside of the players already mentioned, Carlie Silva, Rainelyn Antipuesto, Valerie Aguilar, Cloey Turiello, Aubrey Archuleta, Kyla Velasco, Emma Davis, Sophia Contreras and Madison Guerriero factored into the league-finale at Leland, and will be key for a deep playoff push.