Balers poised to go far with experienced roster

Jada Taylor will play a key role in the Balers' quest to win a league title.

With 12 seniors on the roster, the San Benito High girls soccer team may have its best chance yet to make the deepest playoff run in program history. The Haybalers are nothing if not consistent. They’ve finished in third place in the Gabilan Division in each of the last four years following their last league championship in the 2013-2014 season.

However, the Balers have lost their opening game in the CCS playoffs in each of the last two years, last recording a postseason victory three years ago. San Benito hopes to reign once again atop the Gabilan Division, and players like Vanessa Garcia believe the superior cohesiveness will prove to be the difference.

“We have really strong chemistry and we’re all on the same page,” said Garcia, a senior center defender. “I think we will complement each other better than in previous years with our dynamic playing styles. I think we’re strong at every position, and even our second string when they come in, there won’t be a big difference from the starters. Hopefully, that will get us farther this season.”

The Balers have switched from a 4-5-1 formation to a 4-3-3 set this season, with Bonner pointing to a couple of key reasons for the change.

“We switched to this formation because a lot of players on this team have offensive mindset and are very good about moving the ball forward and passing the ball,” she said. “It’s a team formation, meaning every play counts, every movement counts. All of the girls see this at practice and are getting it down. This levels out the playing field for the entire team. For this formation to work, every player hast to move off the ball, pass and think to create opportunities while also dropping back for defense.”

The poor air quality that littered the Bay Area resulting from the Northern California Camp Fire last month combined with the school’s new field situation forced Bonner to cancel practice multiple times. In essence, the team was practicing the new formation for the first time in a 7-0 season-opening loss to Santa Cruz.

“We knew there would be some kinks working out of the new formation, but I’m really confident the girls will be looking fabulous by the start of the league season,” Bonner said.

Key players on the backline include Garcia, Jada Taylor, Iana Arreola Padilla, Lupita Gonzalez and Aileen Ceja.

“They’re a very vocal group, which is what you need from the defensive players,” Bonner said. “They’re always willing to learn and grow, and they do a really good job on the field shutting things down. From a spatial standpoint, they’re very aware of one another, which is important.”

Players who are expected to have an impact in the midfield include Laine Lowi, Alex Mendoza, Stephanie Castillo and Juliza Mejia. Bonner noted the group’s footwork, speed and ability to make smart decisions. The playmaking forwards include Carli Lowi, Mayvene Navarro Molina, Arlette Fausto, Katelyn Teerman, Sam Bloom, Sophie Munoz and Ryen Ortiz. Amanda Garcia and Lauren Okamoto are also on the roster.

The Balers will have a new player at goalkeeper in junior Victoria Carlsen, who takes over for the graduated Mariana Magana. Goalkeeper has been a strong position for the team in recent years, as Hailey Blackburn was solid between the pipes for four years before graduating after the 2016-2017 season and Magana last season. Bonner said Carlson has what it takes to be a strong goalkeeper.

“She works hard and wants to be there,” Bonner said. “She asks questions and is developing and growing every single day. She’s very receptive to feedback, does a good job of hearing that feedback and implementing what she’s told into game situations. You can’t ask for more than that from a player. The whole team has a positive attitude, and I think they’ll do great.”

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