Hollister High senior Leandro Hererra looks for an open lane to dribble through with the ball during the Haybalers’ non-league contest against Christopher High on Dec. 12. (Juan Reyes/Free Lance)
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The Hollister High boys’ soccer team has a base of three straight solid seasons. 

In 2023-24, the Haybalers are testing themselves early against strong competition in hopes of another league title and more Central Coast Section playoff matches.

“We have started out fine,” Hollister head coach Greg Bloom said. “We played really strong teams in the St. Francis tournament. It’s good for us to play against different teams, taller teams. We’re doing well defensively, but having some trouble scoring goals.”

That formula repeated on a chilly Tuesday night at Andy Hardin Stadium, as an experienced Christopher High squad topped the Balers 1-0 in non-league action.

An early goal stood up, as Hollister fought back strongly over the final 30 minutes but it could not find the equalizer. 

With the loss, the Balers slip to a 1-3-1 overall record, while the Cougars improve to 6-1.

Hollister leaders include senior Hernan Alvares Funes, cited by Bloom as basically the league’s most valuable player two years ago. 

Alvares Funes played club soccer last year but is back with the school team now. He provides a strong shot and is an elite goal-scorer. 

Diego Hernandez is a force in the midfield, using his strength to gain possession of the ball and distribution. Along with Hernandez in the midfield are Carlos Garcia and Jared Huerta.

Other top Balers up front include Oswaldo Huerta Sanchez, Adrian Cortes Moreno, Leandro Herrera and Gilbert Bolivar. 

The defense features Emiliano Alvarez, Anthony Nunez, Adan Serrato-Sanramon and Ezekial Suarez. 

In front of the goal is Ethan Herrera-Rangel, with alternate keeper Josue Avila out a bit longer due to a hand injury from club season.

Hollister has found recent success in the past three seasons and advanced into the CCS playoffs in that same span.

During the abbreviated 2020-21 season, the Balers finished 8-1-2 overall and went 6-0 in Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division play.

In 2021-22, they followed up with a PCAL Mission Division crown, going 7-2-1 in league play and 10-6-4 overall.

Last season, they finished with a 13-5-2 overall record and placed second behind Alisal with a 9-3 record in the PCAL Gabilan Division standings. 

“We played pretty well tonight,” Bloom said. “We’re still struggling in the final third. We controlled the midfield after the first 10 minutes. Christopher has three superior players and they are good at controlling the ball but we defended them fairly well.”

In the first half of the Dec. 12 game, both teams had good opportunities. Alvares Funes made great plays in tight quarters and produced offensive chances for himself and others. 

Cortes Moreno displayed speed that resulted in scoring threats. Huerta Sanchez and Hernandez made major contributions.

For Christopher, senior striker Gilmar Torres and senior midfielder Ezra Echauri were stars in the midfield and up front. 

Edison Torres and Nicholas Armeniakos led a fierce defense that repulsed Baler attacks and protected the goal.

In the 18th minute of the first half, Christopher scored. Rylan Antipuesto sent a cross from the right side into the box.

“My right wing (Antipuesto) crossed the ball and it hit the post,” Torres said. “I went at the rebound hard with my whole body. It was about one or two yards off the line. I hit it with my head.”

The header, with a Baler defender pressing Torres tightly, gave Christopher a 1-0 lead.

In the second half, Bolivar, Alvares Funes and Cortes Moreno led Hollister’s play up front. Herrera and Huerta were strong. Nunez was stellar in the back and Herrera-Rangel made several big saves. 

A late flurry included a long shot from Huerta that was just wide and a Herrera rocket that barely missed. The Cougars held the fort and left town with a big victory.

“Against Santa Teresa (a 0-0 tie), we absolutely dominated,” Bloom said. “We played well but we could not finish. Against St. Francis, we lost 3-1 but we had one good goal, one ball off the crossbar and just missed two other good opportunities. We can play with that type of team. We don’t have the size but we’re definitely quicker than most other teams.”

Other early results have included a 2-1 loss to St. Ignatius and a 1-0 victory over Carlmont.

“Tonight, we did alright,” Garcia said. “We are trying to implement what we do in practice. A mistake cost us in this game but it was a pretty even game. We are working hard to make it far and hopefully another time in the playoffs like last season.”

PCAL Gabilan Division play begins Jan. 3 at Alvarez High. 

Top competitors look to be Alisal and Seaside, though in the Gabilan, every team is quite dangerous. 

Featured home matches—all at Andy Hardin Stadium with 5:45pm start times—include Watsonville on Jan. 11, Seaside on Jan. 23 and Alisal on Feb. 8.

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