Even when the San Benito High girls soccer team lost its first three matches and four of its first five, coach Becky Bonner didn’t worry. After all, she was sacrificing short-term victories for long-term goals.
“At the beginning of the season, I told the girls—and it’s not a very popular philosophy—that the main goal was if they wanted to win league, we had to have them healthy,” she said. “And essentially what was happening in preseason (non-league play) was if anybody even mentioned being hurt, I benched them. And I didn’t bench them for any reason other than realistically if you want to win league, you can’t come into it with everybody injured or everybody hurt.
“So in the preseason I looked at for us to have the best chance at league meant the girls had to be healthy and that meant that every sub that went into the game would be able to play and make a difference. It was really important to me that if something hurt, they rested. Like I said it’s not a very popular or normal strategy for a coach to use, but I’m more about keeping the kids healthy and making sure they have the ability to play long term.”
Bonner’s philosophy has paid off as the Haybalers got off to a terrific start in Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division play with wins over Gilroy and Christopher, the latter critical since the Cougars are the defending champions and returned basically their entire team. Arlette Fausto and Mayvene Molina scored for San Benito, which overcame a 1-0 halftime deficit to post an impressive victory.
Molina also scored the team’s third goal on a nice rebound shot in the 26th minute against Gilroy. But it was her goal against Christopher that proved vital and set the tone in what could be a preview of the two teams that end up competing for the league championship.
“(The team) picked up their rhythm and looked great as they dominated the second half,” Bonner said. “They looked good. They were passing and moving off the ball, and it was beautiful to watch.”
With 12 seniors on the roster, the Balers have a deep and experienced roster that communicates well despite not being overly vocal on the field.
“That is something we’ve had to work on all season,” Bonner said. “At the end of every game, we ask the girls what they need to work on and it seems like talking (more) comes up almost every time. So that is just something that realistically will have to be developed as the season goes along.”
One thing is for certain: the Balers have no shortage of impact players. In the 5-0 win over Gilroy on Jan. 10, Carli Lowi scored three goals, and Molina and Alex Mendoza had one goal each. Gilroy didn’t have any answers for Lowi, who utilized her speed to consistently blow by defenders on the left flank and come in on the Gilroy goalkeeper under little duress. Lowi didn’t waste any time asserting her dominance in the contest, dribbling the ball for 50 yards on one sequence just two minutes in.
Moments later, she made another strong run down the left side, blowing by defenders and scoring the first of her three goals. Lowi also juked defenders with her deft footwork and ability to make a cut on a moment’s notice.
“Carli is probably one of the fastest girls in the league, so realistically if that kid takes the space she’s going to beat most people,” Bonner said. “One thing that is really nice about Carli is she can take a shot and doesn’t have to be close to the goal. She has a rocket for a foot so she can shoot from 20, 30 yards out.”
Mendoza, a dynamic midfielder, controlled the flow of play whenever the ball was on her foot against Gilroy. Dribbling and passing with precision, Mendoza possesses a number of strong attributes.
“Alex is amazing; she’s like the spine of our team,” Bonner said. “She holds everyone together in the center, and she’s really good at knowing when to distribute the ball and move off the ball. Before the Christopher game, we made her the captain because she really is someone who is a leader on and off the field.”
Mendoza and Stephanie Castillo displayed solid teamwork against Gilroy, as the two had a couple of nice give-and-go sequences that put the Balers into an advantageous position on the field. Jada Taylor was her usual self in the first half, able to keep the possession for the team while moving well with and without the ball. Taylor was always around the ball, a testament to her instincts and a motor that stays in fifth gear. Laine Lowi has also come on strong this season, as the center midfielder plays well off the ball and sees the field well.
Sophie Munoz was another player who had an excellent game against Gilroy, creating space on the outside on the left side, something she’s been doing all season. Lupita Gonzalez also was active, helping to move the ball and keeping the flow of play going. What will it take for the Balers to keep their strong play going?
“As long as they collectively play together, push forward and remember to play for one another—that it’s not just for yourself—they’ll keep this momentum going,” Bonner said.