Prep Soccer: CHS teams ready to right last season’s wrongs

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Christopher soccer players from left, Paulina Yamis, Lauren Yin, Cristian Gonzalez, Armando Kohajan, Gina Rodriguez and Emma Morley.

GILROY — The 2012 season didn’t end the way either Cougars soccer team wanted it to.
The boys, who started the first half of the season undefeated, missed the playoffs while the girls lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to Del Mar in the first round.
But neither are defeated, neither are deterred. In fact, both Christopher teams are back with a vengeance this year, though their situations are very different.
BOYS
As the Christopher boys team picked jerseys for its intersquad scrimmage at Tuesday’s practice, coach Ricardo Espinoza was doing a head count.
“Eight, nine, ten, eleven…” he counted off. “OK, we have enough.”
The Cougars have an exceptionally small squad this year, losing several seniors to graduation last season. But what they lack in numbers, they are making up in enthusiasm for the season.
“We may not be the biggest team, the fastest team or the team with the most skill, but we are the team that’s going to play 120 (percent) every game,” center midfielder Cristian Gonzalez said. “Coach Ricardo is teaching us to never give up.”
That “never say die” attitude, Espinoza said, is precisely what the team lacked last season. After going undefeated in the first half of the year, the team fell flat in the second to finish 10-7-2 overall, 6-4-2 in the Monterey Bay Pacific League to miss the playoffs.
But instead of focusing on how it ended, the team is looking at the positives. Out of those six undefeated games, three of them were shutouts and as a defense-first team, that’s proof that the system is working. The Cougars will see the return of their phenom goalie Carlos Arroyo, who beat out their senior goalie last season as a freshman.
“He’s more mature this year, he’s a sophomore, he’s a big component,” Espinoza said of Arroyo.
Furthermore, Christopher was the only team to beat the eventual league champions, Everett Alvarez — and the team is hoping that they can do it again. They will see the return of senior sweeper Armand Kohayan, who will be a leader in the backfield. As a team that builds itself up from the back to front, Kohayan said defense is the key to the Cougars success this season.
“You don’t get scored on, you can’t lose — that’s our main thing,” he said. “(We) cover first and then counter off that.”
Espinoza said he wants his team to look ahead, this is a new season and a fresh start to get it right this time. The Cougars struggled last season, not because they didn’t have the talent Espinoza said, but because they hadn’t quite reached the maturity level needed to be an elite team.
“I think if we can learn from last year, we can learn that we can definitely compete at the top level from the beginning,” Espinoza said. “I think what happens is our maturity level, as far as on the field, needs to improve to where they don’t breakdown or fall apart during the game. With that I think we’ll have a much better second half. I think the team has what it takes to win the league.”
Christopher will kick off its season at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday when they host Gonzales.
GIRLS
One goal — that’s all it took for Christopher’s season to be over.
After what Cougars coach Chip Beardsley called a “surprisingly good” regular season — the team was 10-7-3 overall, 6-4-2 and in Monterey Bay Gabilan League — Christopher finished third in league and landed itself in the Division II playoffs.
Christopher was stellar defensively all season, having only lost two games by more than two goals. But it was the offense that never quite clicked the way it should have and the proof came in the Cougars’ heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Del Mar in the first round of the playoffs.
The good news for Christopher? It has the chance to do it all over again.
The Cougars lost only two seniors to graduation, both of which were non-starters. The entire starting lineup is back for the 2013 season and the excitement in the air is contagious.
“We’re going to be really friggin’ good,” senior Gina Rodriguez said. “Honestly, we’re getting closer as a team. We have a better bond and we know where we’re going to be on the field so it will just be better.”
Rodriguez will be a key part to the defense, Beardsley said, as will senior classmates like goalie Lauren Ginn and Emma Morley — who was a junior captain last year.
Offensively, the team is boosted by the return of Paulina Llamas. The junior forward scored 14 goals last year was the league’s Offensive Player of the Year and said this season, the Cougars’ upperclassmen are all business.
“It’s a little more serious this year,” Llamas said. “Last year we kind of goofed off. Know that we’re kind of the leaders of the team now, we want to set the example.”
The key to the Cougars’ season lies in controlling the ball in the air and finishing when attacking the net.
“I think we just need to focus more on our offensive stuff,” Ginn said. “Our defense was really solid last year, but I feel like we were getting up to the other team’s goal but we just weren’t finishing. That just messed us up. We would there and we’d get the cross up, but the finish was just never where we really wanted it to be.”
But even with all their improvements from last season, Beardsley said his team can’t rely on that to believe they’ll be successful. Christopher is in the same league with tough teams Gilroy — last year’s league champion— and runner-up San Benito and it knows that it must continue getting better everyday.
“It’s not like we’re getting and everyone else is not,” Beardsley said. “We’ve gotten better and we’re going to be a much better offensive team this year than we were last year — we’ll put a lot more goals in the net.”
Christopher opens its season at 3:30 on Nov. 30 against Monterey.
BOYS
Last year’s record: 10-10-3 overall, 4-6-2 in the Monterey Bay Gabilan League; lost 1-0 to Sacred Heart Prep in Central Coast Section DIII semifinals.
Top returners: Carlos Jimenez, jr., MF; Sean Kaufman, jr., D; Alejandro Flores, jr., F; Angel Velasquez, sr., G; Gasper Figueroa, sr., MF; Miguel Guiterrez, sr., MF; Javier Alejo, sr., D
Key newcomers: Jordan Juarez, soph., U; Emmanuel Cruz, sr., MF/F; Jose Antonio Barredas, fresh., U; Marc Rivera, fresh., U
Coach Armando Padilla’s comment: “Our weakness so far is our depth in goal. With senior Angel Velasquez as the only shot stopper, we will have to convert a player into goalie considering the amount of depth and versatility we have on the bench.”
Analysis: The Mustangs, despite losing six seniors, have strength in numbers. Kaufman said the “depth on the roster” is one the team’s biggest strengths and it’s got plenty of players to plug in wherever needed. There are several new faces on the squad this year, so the Mustangs do anticipate some growing pains while they forge new bonds with teammates. Don’t write them off for long, however. Once Gilroy is able to find it’s groove, it will a very dangerous team with a lot to prove. “We got there (CCS playoffs) last year and almost tasted victory. We no longer want that sour taste in our mouth. But for now we will take it one game at a time and worry about that later,” midfielder Andres Jimenez said.
GIRLS
Last year’s record: 11-3-6 overall, 10-0-2 in the Monterey Bay Gabilan League
Top returners: CC Contreras, sr.; Alexi Slattery, jr.; Agust Gomez, soph.; Jackie Andrade, sr.; Cassidy Lawrence, sr.; Samantha Gonzalez, jr.; Jackie Gomez, jr.
Key newcomers: Chelsey Robles, fresh.; Kami Humphrey, fresh.
Coach Mario Gomez’s comment: “Our first and foremost goal will be to come together as a team and as the season progresses to get better and better with the ultimate goal of winning league and CCS.”
Analysis: If you think getting past Gilroy’s defense will be easy, you better think again. The Mustangs’ strength is in their defense, seeing the return of their starting defensive players and goalie back this year. The challenge will be getting those players to gel with the several new additions to the team. Building that team chemistry will be vital if the Mustangs want to repeat last year’s success. 

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