Soccer: San Benito set up for the future

Balers defender Marisa Villegas had another standout season.

This year’s San Benito High girls soccer team could make the case it was the best team in school history. The Haybalers won their first-ever Central Coast Section playoff game (not counting a forfeit victory against Palo Alto three years ago) before falling to Presentation 4-0 in a Division I quarterfinal on Feb. 27.
Despite the drubbing, the San Benito players did their usual postgame jog in front of 30 to 35 fans who clapped one final time for the effort the Balers gave all season.
“What I’m going to remember most about the season is the girls’ work ethic at practice and in the games,” said Becky Bonner, who completed her fourth season as the San Benito coach. “Even when we had off games, I didn’t see people who didn’t try. You’re going to have off days, but when you have a team that tries the entire time, for me that’s nice because I haven’t always had that. These girls don’t give up and they all support each other. There’s not that competition level that tears each other down.”
Instead, the players used a positive focus to raise the level of each other’s play. That’s one of the reasons why San Benito is a program on the rise. Even though the Balers were bounced out in the quarterfinals, one shouldn’t be surprised to see it at this stage—or perhaps a round farther—next year.
The Balers lose only two senior starters off this year’s team, a notable fact considering in the first three years of Bonner’s tenure, she never returned more than six starters from the previous year’s team. Next season, Bonner should see nine familiar faces returning.
And that’s not including a key freshman or two who could make an immediate impact. The Balers had four or five freshmen and sophomores who started throughout the season.
“The girls coming in now are playing year-round, which is nice,” Bonner said. “Some are playing (for club teams) in Hollister, some are playing in Morgan Hill, some in San Jose. You didn’t see that in our program four or five years ago, and now it’s starting to be a trend where a large amount of girls are playing for a team outside the high school. It’s nice because players are coming into tryouts in shape and already skilled. For the varsity, you don’t have to go back to all of the fundamentals and build up from square one. You have a better starting point to begin with.”
Indeed, with talented players such as Shantay Tamez, Marisa Villegas, Rachel Peterson, Carly Lowi and Emmalyn Irvin expected to return—just to name a few—San Benito should be the odds-on favorite to win the Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division championship next season.
Against Presentation, the Balers saw first-hand what it will need to take the next step. Presentation, a perennial section power, wasn’t vastly superior talent-wise; however, the Panthers made fewer mistakes and never lost focus. Presentation scored its second goal on a scrum up front, and the Balers had several chances to knock the ball away only to see the Panthers out-hustle them for the loose ball.
A defensive breakdown accounted for two other Presentation goals, negating the Balers getting the better of the play in the first 25 minutes. San Benito’s best chance to score came in the 55th minute, when Alyssa Bengivengo’s shot from 25 yards away hit the left post.
Bengivengo was a standout in the postseason, as she scored two goals in a 4-1 win over Westmont in the opening round. Peterson, Lucy Alcala, Alysan Beltrami Green and Austin Perez were just some of the several players who made strong contributions in the playoffs.
When Bonner took the job four years ago, she was a bit apprehensive because her philosophy is all about developing players on and off the field, with wins being a byproduct of the process. Turns out, Bonner has been able to accomplish both—developing and winning—as the influx of talented players in Hollister keeps on growing. In other words, the Balers’ 2015-16 season could be a glimpse of even greater things to come for the team in the future.
“(Because the team will return nine starters) we’ll be starting next year with momentum that we haven’t had since I’ve been the varsity coach,” Bonner said.

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