Soccer: Balers are tough, talented

The Balers' Lucy Alcala, right, is one of the key returners for a team that is coming off one of its best seasons in program history.

The San Benito High girls soccer team is coming off arguably its best season in program history, winning its first-ever Central Coast Section playoff game (not counting a forfeit victory it received four years ago). The Haybalers were expected to return up to nine starters this season, a huge haul that would’ve made them the odds-on favorite to win the Monterey Bay League’s Gabilan Division and make a deep run in the postseason.

However, a number of those projected returners—whether through injuries or other factors—won’t be back after all. However, the pipeline of talent has reached a point where San Benito should still be a formidable bunch, and fifth-year coach Becky Bonner-Leland is as excited as ever to see what this year’s crop of players can do.

“At the start of every season, I look at it as a developmental process—where are we at now and where can we be by the end of the season,” she said. “We have such a young group and we’re essentially creating a new starting lineup. But we’re really blessed because of the girls’ work ethic. It’s a willing group that adjusts and is open to feedback. If the girls come out with the same attitude they’ve had since the first day of tryouts, they will really surprise people this season.”

The Balers should be stout on the back end with junior standout defenders Rachel Peterson and Lucy Alcala returning along with senior goalkeeper Hailey Blackburn. Bonner-Leland said Peterson and Alcala are helping the first-year varsity players fit in.

“They’re taking the younger girls under their wings and making sure they feel comfortable on and off the field,” she said. “Rachel and Lucy do a great job on the field because they stay calm, and I really think that helps keep the whole team stay calm in high-stress situations. They’re very poised and it doesn’t look like anything rattles them. Because of that, the rest of the team gets more confidence.”

The Balers return forward Shantay Tamez, who recorded double-digit goals a season ago and is downright dangerous in the open field. Possessing agility, vision and a rifle for a shot, Tamez has the potential to score on a moment’s notice. Tamez scored the only goal of the match in the Balers’ 1-0 win over Leigh on Tuesday.

Sophomore midfielders Carly Lowi and Alex Mendoza have been sharp early in the season. Mendoza is solid with her ball distribution skills, and Lowi can be relied upon for her consistency to play hard from start to finish.

“More than anything, Alex has really grown and come out confident,” Bonner-Leland said. “With her poise and ball skills, she’ll be the key to that midfield line.”

Senior Kassy Moreno, who returns as a defensive midfielder, is known for her tenacity to win 50-50 balls and overall skill set.

“She’s the package deal for sure,” Bonner-Leland said. “She’s a great communicator and works hard to build other girls up. On the field, she’s a workhorse and literally doesn’t stop until her body goes out. When she comes off the field, she knows she’s given everything she can.”

Blackburn has become one of the best—if not the premier—goalkeeper in the MBL. The senior three-year varsity starter is aggressive, knows how to cut off angles and is judicious when she comes off her line. San Benito also returns Maritza Santoyo and Mia Ventimiglia, two players who didn’t start many games last year but bring plenty of positives to the team.

“Maritza is transitioning from defense to offense well and does a great job of distributing the ball as a center midfielder,” Bonner-Leland said. “Mia is a very positive force for our team. She is the player always ready to encourage the girls around her to keep pushing and has stepped up to train as a backup goalkeeper.”

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