The San Benito High boys soccer team is coming off two of its best seasons in program history, reaching the high water mark last year when it advanced to the semifinals of the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs. Despite a coaching change and a roster that graduated several starters, the Haybalers expect to excel once again.
Greg Dolan, the first-year San Benito coach, has actually coached most of the players on the roster through his Hollister Tremors club program. The familiarity should make for a nice transition after former coach Marco Orozco stepped down in the off-season.
“A lot of the players know Greg and are very close to him,” said Abel Rivera Jr., a standout senior center midfielder and the team captain. “Many of them look up to him and his leadership—he’s basically family to them.”
Rivera returns to bolster a team that competes in arguably the best boys soccer league in the CCS, the Pacific Coast League’s Gabilan Division. Rivera, who played for an Almaden San Jose club team that advanced to the prestigious NorCal State Cup in September, is a physical player who wins a lot of balls through sheer effort and determination.
“Abel is a coach’s ideal player—I can’t emphasize that enough,” Dolan said. “He’s the best practice player in that he is very enthusiastic and stops all the clowns from filling around practice. He’s a rare breed where he’ll get irritated if the rest of the team around him is kind of fooling around. He takes everything seriously. His motivation is right up there with the best, and he always gives 110 percent.”
In addition to Rivera, the Haybalers return impact players Jose Agredano, Abraham Hernandez, Edgar Barbosa, Ramon Delgado and Irwin Gomez. Agredano, a center midfielder, possesses tremendous ball-control skills and creativity.
“He has what we call freedom of the park (trusted in decision-making) in that he’s that creative and no one has better touch on the team,” Dolan said.
Gomez, a center midfielder, also blends a combination of creativity and flair and will team with Agredano in the middle to form what San Benito hopes will be a lethal and ultra-productive duo. Delgado, a center back, will be counted upon to make sure the players are constantly communicating.
“He’s loud and that’s very important for the position he plays,” Dolan said. “He’s fearless and gives up his body every time, which is huge for our team. Everyone on this team has to fight and compete because all of these schools that play us are out for scalps right now given how highly ranked San Benito was after last year’s performance.”
Dolan has high hopes for Barbosa, a center forward who is armed with tremendous speed and skill. Dolan said Barbosa combines physical talent along with an enthusiasm and passion for the game that shows every time he steps onto the field. Hernandez, a center midfielder, scored the team’s lone goal in a season-opening 1-1 tie against Greenfield.
“Abraham is a dedicated student of the game and has literally gotten 20 percent better every year since I’ve been around him,” Dolan said. “He keeps the game simple by winning the ball and giving the ball when it should be given up. He knows his job and does it perfectly.”
And so does Rivera, who like Dolan feels the team will take time to come together, but when it does, watch out. One of the key newcomers include Danny Navarro, a center defender who didn’t play for the team last year.
“We have a lot of new faces, but from the looks of it so far, we’re looking pretty good,” Rivera said. “I know we have a lot of hard workers who have a good work ethic, so as long as we stay that way, we should be fine.”
Rivera showed promise early, as he was one of only two sophomores to make the team two years ago. Rivera is a top-notch defender; however, he plays a holding midfielder position for the Balers because they need him at that position.
“I’m not a creative player, but I win the tackles and play hard,” he said. “Defending is one of my strongest suits. That is how I help the team.”
Rivera credits his workmanlike attitude to watching his father, Abel Sr.
“My dad has been a huge inspiration to me in keeping me going forward,” Rivera Jr. said. “I’ve seen how hard he works and I think that has rubbed off on me. I hope his work ethic somehow shows through me.”
Even though the team has a different set of players this season, Dolan has lofty goals that he feels is grounded in realistic expectations.
“It’s going to be a long haul, but my mentality is we’re going all the way or bust,” Dolan said. “I’m not coming along to build a program over 10 years—we want to win and we want to win now.”
Dolan said he was proud to point out that through the first grading period the team’s overall GPA was over 3.0.
“We’ve emphasized since day one that 99 percent of you won’t be playing soccer when you leave this school, so grades are everything,” Dolan said. “We’re really strict on if your grades drop, you won’t play. All 25 players have stepped up.”