Balers aim for highest level yet

Stephanie Castillo, Mariana Magana Ruiz and Jada Taylor are three of the many standouts on a loaded Baler girls soccer team. Photo by Josh Miller.

The San Benito High girls soccer team hasn’t won a league championship since the 2013-2014 season—coach Becky Bonner’s second season at the helm. Bonner isn’t one to heap false praise, so take it seriously when she says this year’s team has what it takes to win the Monterey Bay League’s Gabildan Division championship—and perhaps make a deep run in the Central Coast Section playoffs.

“If the girls keep on working hard and stay motivated, I don’t think anything can stop them from having the chance to win league and go beyond,” Bonner said.

The Haybalers, who are coming off a runner-up finish in league last year, open up the season on Saturday against Menlo-Atherton in the Firebird Tournament at Fremont High in Sunnyvale. San Benito has a deep roster, with talent at every position.

Shantay Tamez, a senior who has made a verbal commitment to play at Cal State Dominguez Hills, will lead the way as the center defensive midfielder. A pure playmaker who is strong on the ball and able to launch accurate shots on goal from 40 yards away, Tamez brings veteran experience to a team that has only two seniors.

Normally, that would be a cause for concern. However, the Balers are stacked with players who play club ball, meaning they have plenty of experience.

“Shantay is just a powerhouse,” Bonner said. “I can put her anywhere and she will do well. But we’re switching formations this year, and we need someone in that position to drop on defense and be able to push up and be an offensive threat.”

San Benito returns junior forward Carli Lowi, who led the team in assists last season. Lowi also has been one of the team’s top goal scorers ever since her freshman year, and this season should be no different. Lowi possesses tremendous speed and understands how to move the ball, and she’ll be joined up top by the combination of sophomore Maya Peterson and junior Katelyn Teerman.

Whether it’s Peterson or Teerman playing up top with Lowi, Bonner is confident both players will thrive.

“Katelyn knows how to put herself in the right position, and having someone strong like Carli to play off of will make for positive things,” Bonner said. “And the same goes with Maya, who really has a strong leg and should be pretty dynamic playing with Carli.”

Goalkeeper Mariana Magana Ruiz is the team’s only other senior. Magana, who was the co-starter with Hailey Blackburn during her sophomore season, elected not to play last season. But Magana apparently isn’t showing any rust from not playing on the team a year ago.

“Mariana is looking really strong,” Bonner said. “She is a strong, natural leader and is bringing up other girls around her. She has a lot of great energy, a solid work ethic and for taking a year off, has not missed a beat.”

Bonner is excited to see the impact junior midfielders Stephanie Castillo, Mayvene Molina, Alex Mendoza and Arlette Fausto make this season. The speedy Molina will be slotted on the left side and should be a dangerous threat with her ability to fly by opposing players.

Mendoza, who was a reserve player last season along with Molina, has made dramatic improvements in her game. Armed with a strong skill set and game sense, Mendoza possesses tremendous vision and is always moving to keep the Balers in possession.

Fausto is downright consistent offensively and defensively, and is one of the more well-conditioned players on the team. Fausto will be situated on the right side, and possesses speed and the ability to place the ball well. Castillo, a center mid, has a vast array of ball skills, so much so that Bonner’s jaw drops at times.

“She’s got amazing footwork. She’ll pull out moves that make you think, ‘How did she do that,’” Bonner said. “She’s amazing with the ball and is probably the most composed player on the team. She pushes the girls to the next level.”

Jada Taylor returns to patrol the backline, a year after she played forward. Bonner put Taylor back at defender because she needed a player who was vocal and could direct the defense and keep everyone composed under duress.

“Jada knows when to pressure and when to give space,” Bonner said. “She’ll do a great job this year supporting the defensive line while working with the midfield and making things flow smoothly.”

Taylor said the biggest difference in this year’s team lies in its cohesiveness, one of the factors that could make the Balers into a bona-fide CCS playoff championship contender.

“We have better chemistry than last year’s team,” she said. “The soccer should flow better because everyone gets along.”

Junior Hailey Cross will join Taylor on the backline, and her stamina allows her to close out on the opposition, especially late in games. Cross will flank the right side, while Lupita Gonzalez and Iana Arreola Padilla are vying for the left side position. Bonner said both players are savvy soccer players.

Freshman Lauren Okamoto, sophomore Lily Sanchez and junior Juliza Mejia are potential impact newcomers who have made strong impressions early in practice. In Vanessa Garcia and Sam Bloom, the Balers have a couple of key players who are currently injured but could be playing soon.

Aileen Ceja, who missed last season due to a torn ACL, also looks strong. Taylor, who plays for Santa Clara Sporting during the club season, has been impressed with the play of several of her teammates. One thing is for certain: San Benito has speed at every position, one of the many strengths on a team seemingly loaded with them.

“The expectations are high,” Taylor said. “Everyone on the team has skill, and we’re working well together. I’m really excited; it should be a good season.”

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