Balers focus on process, growth

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Balers sophomore Laine Lowi is one of the difference makers for the team this season. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The San Benito High girls soccer team had just taken a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Pioneer High last Friday when Haybalers coach Becky Bonner gathered a couple of her players to talk strategy. Near the end of the non-league game, Bonner saw some nice things on set pieces that the team will use entering league play this week.

“Tonight it was kind of nice to see a few of the last set pieces kind of click into place that gets you excited going forward,” said Bonner, whose team entered the week at 0-7-2. “There have been some kinks we’ve been trying to work out defensively and with set plays offensively.”

From a won-loss standpoint, the Balers are having an atypical season. They’ve advanced to the Central Coast Section playoffs in each of the last four years, and last had a losing record in the 2014-2015 season. But the team was hit hard by graduation last season, losing 12 seniors and returning just five players. With that, Bonner knew this was going to be the first rebuilding year in the varsity team since she became a coach in the program 11 years ago, first at the junior varsity and then varsity position level.

“Our focus from day one has been on growth and taking preseason as an opportunity to challenge ourselves against quality teams while developing and finding the correct positions for each player,” Bonner said. “One of the things I appreciate most about the team is they back each other up no matter what the score is or no matter what the situation. Literally everyone who is on the field and on the bench tries and goes hard the entire time.”

That was apparent in the second half of the Pioneer match, as San Benito’s intensity level never dropped even as they went into halftime trailing 3-0. The players on the bench could be heard cheering loudly when Laine Lowi dribbled down the field for a good 70 yards, juking defenders along the way en route to the 18-yard box before her shot was deflected away with a couple of minutes remaining. Lowi also had a terrific free kick from the right side in the second half, nearly scoring from 25 yards out.

“I’m really proud of them for how they came out in the second half and didn’t give up until the ref blew the final whistle,” Bonner said. “I think long-term that is going to pay off because you can see how much they’ve grown and developed from the first game of the season to now.”

Lowi, a sophomore center defensive midfielder, was pretty active against Pioneer. Whenever the Balers had a run of good play, Lowi was usually a part of the possession.

“Laine is awesome,” Bonner said. “She’s a great athlete and does a great job of distributing the ball and looking into space. Offensively, she’s a real asset for our team, and you saw that at the end with her 70 yard sprint.”

Amanda Garcia, a sophomore center defender, junior Lexie Tamez, Iana Arreola Padilla, Maya Peterson and Madison Corona have made some big plays at certain points in the season. The team usually rotates goalkeepers with Shaelyn Tamez and Victoria Carlsen. Lexie Tamez handles the majority of the team’s throw-ins and possesses solid ball-control skills. Padilla has put together another solid season.

“Iana is a workhorse,” Bonner said. “She does a great job funneling, a great job defending and she used to be a defender. At the start of the season she said she wanted to transition to offense, and it’s been the smoothest transition. I wish I would have come up with the idea myself and came up with it a few years ago because she’s doing a great job at it. The same with Maya Peterson. She started off as a target forward and has gone to center mid. Her finesse and poise on the field is nice to watch. They’re both so calm and confident in what they’re doing.”

One of the team’s top highlights against Pioneer came in the 76th minute in the Pioneer match when Carlsen stopped a penalty kick, her body in full stretch to deflect the ball away. Moments before the kick, Bonner could be heard yelling, “Get ready for the deflection.” She repeated that phrase two more times, and she proved prescient.

“I’m sure you heard them yelling on the bench cheering for each other,” Bonner said. “It’s nice to be around girls who are willing to try everyday, willing to grow and willing to look at each other afterward and talk about areas we did well, but also say, ‘Hey, we need to work on these things in practice.’ We’ve been focusing on seeing where they’re fitting in rather than necessarily worrying about what the outcome is. It’s more about growth. My proudest moment this whole year has been watching them enjoy each other, trying hard and giving everything they have. That is something you can be proud of no mater what the record is.”