Since coaches Efren Pineda and Roney Cardoza took over the reins of the Gilroy High girls soccer team four years ago, it has never had a roster filled with so many players who also compete on club programs in the off-season. The increased level of talent means that expectations for the Mustangs are sky high this season.
“Once the girls start to understand themselves a little better, I think it will be a heck of a team because of the talent we have out there,” Pineda said. “With the quality on our side, I tell the girls people will be scared to play you once you all start clicking.”
The Mustangs (1-2) are coming off a Covid spring season in which they won a riveting CCS Division III playoff quarterfinal match against Wilcox before falling to San Benito in penalty kicks in the semis. Pineda feels confident the team can piggyback off the spring season, though it will be exceedingly more difficult to earn a postseason berth this time around.
That’s because in the Covid season schools from the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League along with other schools opted out of the playoffs, watering down the field. Plus, the Mustangs have moved up to the Pacific Coast League’s upper ‘A’ Gabilan Division this season, where they’ll face ultra-tough competition multiple times a week.
Still, Pineda is optimistic in no small part because of players like Gianna Bozzo, Cami Johnson, Angelene Castro, Zitlaly Diaz, Lilie Lerma, Ashley Trujillo, Vianey Garcia, Maryjane Porter, Dhalia Saavedra, Annelise Lerma and Vanessa Corona, though the list is not exhaustive.
“We have really high hopes for this team,” Pineda said. “I think this will be one of our best teams since me and Roney have been here.”
Gilroy has talent at every grade level, making for quite a dynamic. Pineda raved about the freshman class and in particular what outside defender Corona and outside midfielder Annelise Lerma bring to the team.
“They emphasize the strength of our team,” Pineda said. “Their energy, their will to learn and their will to win stands out. They have this drive and just want to work and don’t stop. They’re always looking for more and ask questions on what to do in certain situations. They win their 1-on-1s, they win their battles and they have the mentality to come back and win a battle the next time even if they lose one.”
Pineda said the team has potent offensive threats in sophomore striker Krystal Tovar, Porter and the Lerma sisters, who play the outside wing positions.
“They’ll be cutting in and driving from the outside and putting a lot of shots on goal,” Pineda said. “Krystal is fast and she’s going to bang in some goals just on her pure speed and athleticism and then connecting with M.J. It should be a dangerous attack.”
Junior center backs Garcia and Trujillo are simply “outstanding,” Pineda said, while Bryanna Gales has proved to be capable at defender as well. Saavedra plays center mid, Diaz center back and Johnson has been a true gem of a find at goalkeeper starting in the spring Covid season. Pineda said Gilroy typically converts field players or even players from other sports into goalie because of the scarcity of experienced goalkeepers in the area.
“Cami looks amazing this year,” Pineda said. “I don’t know what she did over the summer, but she came back super athletic and grew a little bit. She’s always had a great attitude and now she’s making some amazing plays in goal.”
For all the talent on the team, Pineda said it has struggled to coalesce. That tends to be a common occurrence at the beginning of a season, so he’s banking on the girls playing a cohesive brand of soccer by the start of the league season in January.
“We’re in a rough, little patch right now, but all they need to do is click,” he said. “Once we work out the kinks, we’ll be a well-oiled machine.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.