Soccer: Chemistry key to Balers’ success

The Balers' Kassy Moreno goes on the offensive against Gilroy in a 5-0 victory.

Shantay Tamez is the high school version of Stephen Curry on the soccer field, where a shot from long range equates to a good scoring opportunity. Tamez’s rifle for a leg was on full display in the San Benito High girls soccer team’s 5-0 dismantling of Gilroy on Jan. 29.
The sophomore forward scored two goals against the Mustangs—both from around 30 yards out—and nearly scored on a third from 40 yards away late in the second half. Tamez is one of the many reasons why the Haybalers have seemingly found their mojo in the home stretch of the regular season.
The Balers entered the week with a 4-2-1 record in the Monterey Bay League’s Gabilan Division. San Benito went from fourth place to second in one week, and the team isn’t looking to stop there. The Balers, who trail first-place Salinas by six points with five matches remaining, must beat the Cowboys in the teams’ rematch on Feb. 12 to have a realistic chance of overtaking them for the league championship.
“If the girls can remain checked in and focused, they’ll be strong to the finish,” Balers coach Becky Bonner said. “They’ve got touch, speed and they’re playing aggressive. It all comes down to mental focus.”
Balers defender Marisa Villegas, who scored two goals against Gilroy, admitted the team wasn’t mentally tough enough when it lost to Gilroy 2-1 in the first match of the league season on Jan. 6. However, San Benito showed just how far it’s come in the rematch. The Balers had a one-sided advantage in time of possession, controlling the ball for approximately 80 percent of the time.
In addition to Tamez and Villegas, San Benito received strong contributions from Austin Perez, Lucy Alcala, Alyssa Bengivengo, Emmalyn Irvin, Carly Lowi, Christiana Garcia, Mariana Santoyo, Kassandra Moreno and Rachel Peterson. Perez scored the team’s first goal against Gilroy on a penalty kick in the 12th minute.
“This has probably been my favorite year of playing soccer,” said Villegas, a junior defender. “I think this is the strongest team, and I enjoy playing with all of the girls. We get along really well, and I think that shows. I look forward to coming to practice because everyone is positive.”
The players’ attitude, chemistry and work ethic have made coaching this team an utter joy.
“These girls are great,” Bonner said. “I love their passion for the game, the way they act and how much they care for each other.”
San Benito’s loss to Gilroy in the league opener actually turned out to be a good thing.
“I honestly think that game might be one of the best things that happened to the girls,” Bonner said. “It made everyone refocus, and after that they started to back one another up and started identifying things they needed to work on. They’ve grown so much since then.”
Tamez, who plays with plenty of fire and attitude, represents the present and future of the Balers program. She was all around the ball against Gilroy, and she only needs a sliver of daylight to unleash a shot. Tamez said when she first started playing the sport, she had no leg strength.
“I literally could kick a ball and it wouldn’t go anywhere,” she said. “It took a lot of work over the years. In practice I don’t ever kick a soft ball. Pump up that ball like a rock, and even if it hurts to kick it, you’ll build some muscle and get your leg stronger.”
Villegas has scored five goals this season, an impressive number for a defender. She often moves up to the opponent’s goal when the team is on the attack, particularly when the ball is on the left seam. Villegas is usually stationed on the right side of the field to take advantage of crosses or loose balls that come her way.
“I have to be ready for those finishes if the ball gets crossed,” she said. “This year I go up more because our defense is pretty strong, and we all trust each other.”
Said Tamez: “From the 50-50 balls, to the air, drop kicks, free kicks, communication and movement off the ball, we’re so much better in all those areas from the start of league. I’m amazed with just how much we’ve improved in a couple of weeks.”
In the prep sports world, off the field drama can get in the way of a team’s success. With San Benito, the coaches and players said their strength lies in the friendships they have away from the game.
“I’ve been playing with some of these girls since I was 6,” Villegas said. “I trust them on and off the field, and we’re a better team because we can count on each other.”

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