With seven freshmen on the team—six of whom are starters—the Gilroy High field hockey team’s future looks as bright as ever. In this truncated season—which ends on March 29 against Presentation—the Mustangs (3-2-1) showed why they’ve been a perennial Central Coast Section playoff participant in the last decade.
Despite an atypical thin roster, the Mustangs have improved with each game. A 2-2 tie with Branham on March 25 gave Mustangs coach Adam Gemar ample reasons to speak glowingly of the team afterward.
“This is the best game we’ve played this season,” he said. “We’re awesome because seven of the 14 girls (on the roster) are freshmen. I’m super proud of all of our players. We had to work out a lot of kinks and didn’t have all the practices that we normally have, but the girls have just rolled with it.”
The Mustangs got off to a hot start against host Branham, scoring twice in the opening five minutes. In the third minute, Sydney Abbott delivered a perfect pass to Kaylin Battaglia, who was running toward the Branham goal before one-timing a shot for a 1-0 lead. Two minutes later, Marina Laroche pounced on a rebound in front and scored to make it 2-0.
The Bruins answered with a goal two minutes later, capping a wild flurry of action that saw the teams combine for three goals in the opening seven minutes. Branham got the equalizer midway through the third quarter, and neither team scored the rest of the way in a contest that included a seven minute golden-goal overtime period.
Ella Gallegos contributed to the team’s time of possession advantage with her deft stickwork, Madison Krejdovsky handled the majority of the team’s short corner chances and Battaglia seemingly was all over the field as she hustled to make plays. The goalie combination of Ameera Kleder Barnes and Erin Castro made a couple of terrific saves to preserve the tie, especially in a sequence in the second quarter in which the Bruins had three consecutive short corner chances.
From defenders Brynlee Condie and Ashley Boehm to midfielders Laroche and Krejdovsky to forwards Gallegos and Battaglia, the Mustangs were in sync and playing with an improved chemistry.
“The last few practices we’ve been getting our groove back, and in this game everything came together,” Laroche said. “We had no holes in the middle of the field like sometimes we’ve had before, and our passes really strung together well.”
In addition to the aforementioned players, the rest of the Gilroy roster includes Breanna Condie, Cecelia Method, Emily Silva, Emma Robertson and Maya Torres. Laroche started playing club field hockey when she was in the seventh grade, and remembers watching the Gilroy team practice.
“I would watch and marvel,” she said. “I remember telling myself that I couldn’t wait to get there. Now that I’m here, it’s as great as I thought it would be.”
Gemar said there were 30 girls in the program until December, when another Covid spike forced the shutdown of all non-essential activities.
“We lost 15 players right there after Covid shut us down,” Gemar said.
Despite the lack of numbers in what has been an atypical year, Gilroy remains optimistic because it will enter the fall 2021 season with a dozen returning players off this season’s team along with a handful of players who decided not to suit up this season. Laroche is one of the many players who give the Gilroy coaching staff reason to believe the Mustangs will be a force in the fall.
For the last three weeks, Laroche and her teammates have been able to play official matches when the season looked in jeopardy. What drove them to keep practicing and conditioning when it seemed their season kept on getting delayed from starting?
“I love all my teammates so much, and it’s great being a part of this atmosphere,” Laroche said. “We just love to get out there and hit the ball around, whether there were games or not.”