Skills for success

Senior Tom Hunter, left, dribbles around a defender.

Arteaga, Hernandez lead talented GHS boys soccer into new TCAL
GILROY – The Gilroy High boys soccer team reached new heights last season – earning a school-high No. 2 ranking in CCS at one point. But the Mustangs (10-2-1 last year) fell short of the league title behind Alvarez (11-1-1 last year) and also suffered a disappointing 1-0 first-round playoff loss to Watsonville.

This year, the Gilroy kickers – stocked with senior returners – want more. First, the Mustangs will contend for their first-ever Tri-County Athletic League title since the break-up of the old Monterey Bay League.

The league split, however, was beneficial to Gilroy – which will not spar with perennial powers Alvarez and Alisal as well as early-favorite North County for the league championship. Instead, the Mustangs’ toughest TCAL competitor this year will be neighboring rival Live Oak while Alvarez, Alisal, and North County duke it out in the MBL. The other TCAL teams are Hollister, North Salinas, Palma, and Salinas.

“It’s so hard to say. I don’t know until I see the other teams. We lost some really good seniors,” said fourth-year head coach Albert Marquez of the season’s outlook. “Hollister has a second-year head coach and he’s really turned that program around. We barely beat them 1-0 last year. Live Oak is always good, always solid. They have almost everyone back from last year.”

But just because they’re not league foes anymore, Coach Marquez has lined up a rough non-league schedule – which starts with Friday’s home game against North County at 3:30 p.m. and includes road games against Alvarez Nov. 26 and Division II Champ Santa Cruz Dec. 5. In addition, Alisal comes to town Dec. 18.

“We’ve got a really, really brutal non-league schedule. We play all the top CCS teams,” Marquez said. “We play the Division II Champs Santa Cruz. Word is North Monterey County is the team to beat in the MBL. They’ve got their whole team back.”

Gilroy – which will also partake in the three-day Homestead Tournament in San Jose – split league games with both North County and Alvarez last season.

“As the year goes by, teams get better and other teams fall apart,” Marquez said. “We hope we’re competitive. You never know until you see what the other teams are doing. We have a good strong corps of players, but you never know.”

One thing’s for sure. The Mustangs will once again be led by senior center-midfielder Horacio Arteaga – who earned first-team All-League honors in his stand-out junior season.

“He’s definitely one of the leaders on the team,” said Marquez of his attacking midfielder. “He’s got to show leadership on and off the field. He’s very dedicated. He’s here every day. He’s on time. As a midfielder, we’re still going to need him to score.”

But the Mustangs will be without their captain for the month of December because Arteaga is going back to Mexico for his brother’s wedding and is not expected to return until January.

Arteaga will be joined in the center by sophomore sensation Alfonso Mata – an Olympic Developmental Player who opted to play basketball last season but switched over to soccer this year.

“He’s a really good player,” said Marquez of Mata, “but he’s going to have to earn his starting spot.”

Even more cause for excitement is the return of junior first-team All-League striker Javier Hernandez – who was a member of the National Olympic Developmental team at age 15.

“We want consistency out of him. He’s got all the potential in the world, but he’s got to stay consistent,” Marquez said. “As a freshman and sophomore, they bumped him around. As a junior, I hope he can hold his own. He’s extremely fast.”

Hernandez is accompanied on the front-line by junior teammate Jorge Plata – whose intramural league team (Boca Juniors) won the Latinos Program Championship at Gilroy High. In addition, senior Jorge Cruz – the starting sweeper last season – is going to be moved up to add more offensive firepower.

“(Cruz) is just a solid player. He’s got a good head on his shoulders,” Marquez said. “We’re going to see what we have on defense, see if we can free up some spots and move him up.”

The defense is anchored by outside fullback Scott Martin – the third first-team All-League Mustang from last year’s squad. Along with Martin, Gilroy’s ‘D’ returns fullback Danny MacPhail – who was thought to be lost for the season due to back problems but was given the OK from his doctor.

“(Martin) is fast. He’s really matured. He’s come a long way. He’s a solid player. He’s very reliable on defense. He understands our system really well,” Marquez said. “We’re really relieved and thrilled to have (MacPhail) back. We have a lot of senior leadership in the back.”

Adding depth and experience to the midfield line are seniors Luis Zavala and Mark Griffis – who came on strong late last year to earn a starting spot.

“(Griffis) has grown. He had some great games for us last year. We expect him to excel his senior year,” Marquez said. “(Zavala) has good ball-handling skills. He’s very quick. We’re looking for consistency from him. He’s going to have to fight for a starting position.”

Junior keeper Oscar Garcia – who was like a brick wall last season for Gilroy – is stepping out of net this year. Garcia had his finger ripped off and surgically put back on during the offseason, so he can no longer play goal.

“He’ll be playing out in the field this year,” said Marquez, who know has a two-man battle for goalie going on between junior Luis Arroyo and sophomore Ernesto Torres.

While Arroyo has come out for the team in the past, Torres caught the eye of the Gilroy coaches just a month ago playing in the Latinos Program soccer league.

“We liked what we saw,” said Marquez of Torres. “Then we have a lot of good juniors and five sophomores. We’re a mix. We have young players. It’s just too early to tell if we’ll jell as a team and get that chemistry.”

The Mustang kickers are hard at work on the Gilroy High athletic fields with assistant coach Brian Hall – a World Cup soccer official – aboard for a second straight season as well as defensive assistant Craig Martin.

“As a team, we’ve been working on defending set pieces this year,” Marquez said. “In the CCS Playoffs, we got scored on off a set piece and against Alvarez we got scored on off a set piece. So we’re going to work to get better against that.”

Following Friday’s non-league opener against North County, the Mustangs travel to Scotts Valley for a November 22 road game at 3:30 p.m.


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