Despite loss, Balers aim to finish strong

The San Benito field hockey team aims to remain competitive in the PCL's Gabilan Division. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Christopher High field hockey coach Dani Hameon knew she had the makings of a special team before the season started. Monday’s match was more evidence of that intuition coming to fruition. The Cougars, who dominated host San Benito High 4-0 in a Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division contest Monday, improved their record to 11-0 overall and 6-0 in league.

“The girls are playing great hockey right now, and that’s all you can ask for,” Hameon said. “Everyone has taken their roles on the team and are taking pride in being their best at their roles. We’re jelling and meshing really well and our team chemistry is really good, so I just hope we can keep this uphill grind going for the next four weeks of the season.”

The Haybalers, meanwhile, have found the going tough in the Gabilan Division this season, having earned just one league win in 2019. Scoring has been hard to come by for San Benito, which has finished with four goals in a match twice this season but has also had several more games in which it has scored one goal or less.

“Historically, we’ve had a hard time scoring (consistently),” Balers coach Molly Macierz said. “It just depends on the day.”

And the opponent. In goalie Sam Rabusin, the Cougars arguably have one of the best goalies in the Central Coast Section. Rabusin plays with controlled aggression and isn’t afraid to come off her line. She made three quality saves that preserved the shutout, and Christopher received three goals from Mikaela Santiago, who puts herself in the right position to score.

Santiago scored on a one-timer to make it 1-0 with 16 minutes, 48 seconds left in the first half before adding her second goal on a rebound shot in front of the San Benito cage that made it 2-0 with 5:36 left until halftime. Santiago completed her hat trick after Hanna Crawford delivered a beautiful pass to the front, which Santiago corralled before hitting a hard shot into the cage from close range.

“Mikaela has been a superstar for us this year,” Hameon said. “Even though her shots are within 5 to 6 yards of the goal, she just knows how to get in the right spot and how to get in front of her defender. And she definitely knows how to put the ball away, which is awesome.”

Cloey Turiello, a freshman forward, scored the other Christopher goal 2 ½ minutes into the second half when she used deft stick work to steal the ball deep in the San Benito zone before going in for a breakaway score.

“Cloey can play any position and is having a super year,” Hameon said. “She’s got quick hands, can beat a defender, and almost looks effortless when she does it.”

Indeed, on Turielllo’s goal, she pulled the goalie to one side before finishing in the opposite corner. Even though San Benito goalkeeper Ashley Maggiora didn’t have a chance to stop that shot, she was superb in goal, stopping several other Christopher scoring chances that could’ve easily made the score even more lopsided.

“Ashley is a very promising player as a junior,” Macierz said. “She’s been getting a lot of good experience this year and last year and has done great for us.”

San Benito graduated 11 seniors off last year’s team, but did return standouts Sam Moran, Ryen Ortiz, Nailea Betancourt, Brooke Sparks and Kylie Sparks. Brooke Sparks was active all game and made some nice plays throughout the contest.

“Brooke is really determined and her and her sister did some nice things when they were playing on the same side of the field,” Macierz said.

Sephra Loza has been a dynamic offensive talent for the Balers this season, scoring goals and creating offensive scoring chances for her and her teammates. The Cougars have talent all over the field, and they possess speed, athleticism and just as important the majority of the roster plays club field hockey outside of the high school season. Cloey Turiello and Skyler Turiello helped the Cougars control the flow of play—they dominated the possession, with San Benito unable to get the ball past the midfield line with much regularity in the second half—and plenty of other players contributed to the win. After beating Monterey 4-0 last Friday, Hameon and her players had a long discussion on playing to the high standard they’ve set for themselves this season.

“We came away with a win, but we didn’t play Cougar hockey (against Monterey),” Hameon said. “In order to keep doing what we’re doing, we have to come out of each game and play our passing game, and they did a pretty good job of that today. We’ve been working on our ability to maintain possession.”

Macierz has enjoyed coaching this year’s team, noting more players entered the season prepared to play while having a team-oriented atmosphere, spearheaded by the likes of Moran and Betancourt. Hameon also likes her squad, which features players who share the ball. Forward Amber Moreno made several nice plays Monday, actively fighting for the ball and helping the Cougars maintain possession.

Christopher delivered a statement with a 2-1 win over Gilroy on Sept. 12, the program’s first-ever win against its crosstown rival. The teams will play two more times, and the matches promise to come down to the wire. With the victory, the Cougars broke through the psychological barrier that had been present for over a decade.

“For us it was good to get it out of the way because I think ever since my first year of coaching this team it was always like, ‘Is this going to be the game we get it done,'” Hameon said. “It was almost like a heavy weight on our shoulder. We got it out of the way now.”

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