It only took one match—its season opener—for the Gilroy High girls soccer team to surpass its win total from last year. After finishing 0-9-1 in the 2018-2019 season, the Mustangs have surpassed that total and then some this season. They are 5-2 entering a Jan. 6 game against crosstown rival Christopher High.
“It’s a huge difference from last year,” said Olivia Bozzo, one of the team’s standout midfielders. “I feel like the attitude we have toward the game has improved. Last year even though we lost a lot, I think we had a lot of fun and had a good time with each other. I feel like the chemistry between us is really good so despite the losses, we managed to keep it loose by laughing or playing jokes.”
It’s a testament to the Mustangs that they made the best out of a tough situation last season, and their resilience has paid off as players have matured in their roles and a crop of talented newcomers has provided a boost. Amaya Raoof has made dramatic strides and is one of the key reasons why the team has added confidence this season. Raoof, who never played goalkeeper until last year, has impressed Mustangs coach Roney Cardoza with her fearless play.
“We’ve seen tremendous growth in Amaya,” Cardoza said. “She’s not afraid to dive, not afraid to stop balls and she’s made some quality saves this year. I’m super excited with her play and I knew it was going to be a better season just because she has come in a different player. She has the ability to cover corner kicks and is not afraid to attack a player on a 1V1. She’s able to sit on her line when they kick it toward the goal, which is amazing.”
A pair of freshmen—Ashley Boehm and Vianey Garcia—leads the backline. When two freshmen are some of the team’s top defenders on a high school squad, it’s usually a cause for concern. However, Cardoza said Boehm and Garcia aren’t your typical freshmen players.
“Ashley plays a strong five (center back), is fast and reads the game well,” Cardoza said. “We’re teaching her to build (the possession) from the back and command the defense. You’ll start hearing her push the defense up and organize the attack from the back.”
Garcia also reads the game well, excels in space and has plenty of potential. Freshman Angelena Castro also plays a pivotal role on the backline, as she possesses tremendous speed and is able to track down opposing attackers.
“All three freshmen have been a cool little blessing,” Cardoza said. “It’s great to have them start young and grow together.”
Seniors Chelsea Garcia and Isabella Domingues provide depth on the backline, giving Cardoza some options to spell the starters in each game. Cardoza’s daughter, Tatianna, mans the holding midfielder position, and she plays a significant role for a variety of reasons.
“Tatianna’s job is to distribute the ball to our wingers or forwards because we try to play everything on the ground because we’re not a tall team,” Roney said. “She also has a role to keep the possession and make it a little easier for Ashley and Vianey so they don’t get a lot of 1V1s.”
Junior Maddie Eastus is a returning starter and plays the attacking midfielder position. Eastus makes an impact on both sides of the field, is potent offensively and works well with Tatianna and the wingers and halfbacks. Liliana Lerma, a freshman left wing, rounds out the starting midfielder spots along with Bozzo. Of late, Lerma has utilized her speed to put opposing teams on the defensive.
“Liliana is fast and an exciting player to watch,” Cardoza said. “She’s very defensive (in nature), but we’re teaching her to be more offensive. She’s kind of got it in the last two games where she has used her speed to go forward and impact the 18 (yard box) and being really gritty once she enters the 18.”
The Mustangs received an early Christmas present with the return of senior forward Stephanie Trujillo, who led the team with five goals in the first six games. Trujillo played on the squad in her freshman and sophomore year, but didn’t play on the team last season because of her commitment to a Developmental Academy team.
“Stephanie is a dynamite player,” Cardoza said. “She’s got great footwork, is very quick, hard to stop, and moves well vertically. She’s always looking to take players on and has been a real boost to the team. It’s great to have her back.”
Said Bozzo: “Having Stephanie back is a huge difference. You can totally see it out on the field and the way she affects the game.”
Freshman Ashley Trujillo—no relation to Stephanie—starts at forward and plays beyond her age, Cardoza said. With the ability to play the ball at her feet, use her body to get and keep the ball and a confidence to match, Ashley has done well in attacking the final third of the field.
“She has a lot of skill and good upside,” Cardoza said. “She doesn’t play like a freshmen. We’re working with her on getting her to finish, but that will come in time.”
Bozzo has been a stalwart at the wing position after playing defense in her first three years. Bozzo has tremendous footwork while using her size and speed to win 50-50 balls and help Gilroy maintain possession.
“Olivia gets to the attacking third (of the field) and has really good crosses,” Cardoza said. “She also knows how to play in space, which is great.”
Bozzo’s younger sister, sophomore Gianna, and junior Sarah Fox are also impact midfielders. Olivia said she couldn’t be happier about the Gilroy squad, being on the same team with her sister and playing a new position.
“Moving up to the midfield has given me a whole new perspective of the game,” Bozzo said. “I’ve really enjoyed it, and I like playing with the forwards. I feel like the midfielders have helped me get this new drive for the game to score and help the team in a lot of different ways.”
With several freshmen starters, the Mustangs are poised to move up at least one division in the next couple of years. Gilroy had the privilege to play Sobrato at Avaya Stadium on Dec. 21, and days before the match Bozzo was brimming with excitement.
“Ever since I found out, it’s been on my mind,” she said. “I can’t believe we get this opportunity to play there, and we’re all super excited.”
Said Cardoza: “The Sobrato coach is a teacher or helps out at Gilroy, and he sold a certain amount of Earthquakes tickets that allowed him to nominate his team to play there for free. Since he is from Gilroy High School, he set it up for us to play.”
Cardoza was eager to see where the team stood, as Sobrato was the first A-league team Gilroy had faced all season. The result for the Mustangs was a 2-1 loss; however, the team played well and went nose-to-nose with the Bulldogs in what turned out to be a competitive match.
“Playing the A-league teams lets us know where we stand,” he said. “If we do good against the Sobratos and Christophers, we’ll have a really good season.”
Bozzo is hopeful the team can contend or win a Pacific Coast League Mission Division championship.
“That would be great,” she said. “I think we can do it. It’ll be interesting because a lot of the teams we played last year are still there, so we’ll see how we play them now.”
Bozzo was a field hockey standout in the fall, but soccer has always been her No. 1 love when it comes to sports. She started playing on the pitch at age 4 or 5, while also taking some mini breaks over the years. Those rest periods prevented her from burnout and has led to a positive senior season, both mentally and physically. Raoof has been one of the team’s feel-good stories of the last two years. She had never played organized soccer until last season, and only tried out for the team after hearing in the morning announcements during school time that the team needed a goalkeeper.
“She approached one of the girls on the team and said, ‘I hear you’re looking for a goalkeeper,'” Cardoza said. “She said, ‘If you don’t mind, I could try it.’ She tried it and we were like, ‘Whoa, this girl can do it.’ She was diving and saving balls, which was amazing given she had never played the position before. She was great for volunteering to play goalkeeper, and now she’s our lucky charm. She’s been awesome.”