They’ll have plenty of time to practice, as will all of the other teams in the MTL. Due to a shortage of referees, teams are playing several less games this season compared to 2016 (the Balers went from 18 scheduled matches last year to 11 this year). Due to the shortage of referees, most or all of the teams in the MTL will play at designated host sites, where they can gather as many as teams as possible at one location on the same day.
“It’s been a rough couple of months, but things have settled,” Balers coach Don Jones said. “We’re ready to play.”
San Benito opened the season with a 14-4 win over Leland on Tuesday. Camren Last and Tyler Benedetti scored five goals each, Anthony Brigantino had two scores and Jason Lehman and Andrew DeSilva had one goal apiece. For the first time in program history, they have several returning players who have more than one year of varsity experience.
“The first couple of years we were just learning the basics of the game,” Jones said. “This year was nice because we had ninth and 10tn graders trying out for the JV team and 11th and 12th graders trying out for the varsity. I think it’s going to be a good ride.”
San Benito returns several starters, including White, a junior utility player who has made the transition to goalie after playing midfielder and attacker last season. The versatile White can be used in a variety of roles, as he is adept at winning faceoffs, a critical element to a team’s success.
“Jason playing goalie will give us a better advantage,” Jones said. “He’s had a passion to play goalie since last year, and he’s worked hard to get to this point. You see the training he did in the off-season, and you can’t help but get excited to see how he plays in goal.”
DeSilva, a senior defender, also made nice strides in the off-season.
“He’ll pretty much be our leader on defense,” Jones said. “He can lead vocally, is very athletic and a dynamic player. He’s got pretty sound fundamentals, which is nice.”
Eddie Moran, a senior midfielder, is one of the handful of athletes who has played in the program since the first season. Solid at faceoffs, Moran will be counted upon to provide leadership by example. Jones is confident Benedetti, a junior attacker who led the team in scoring last season, will be as explosive as ever.
“He’s a very good ball-handler, and he’s able to shoot with deception,” Jones said. “The other goalie kind of never knows what angle he’s going to shoot from because he can shoot over the top, side arm and underhand. He’s also really quick, which keeps the goalie on guard.”
Last, who is a junior attacker, gives the Balers a potent offensive option to complement Benedetti.
“Camren is a key cog on the left side,” Jones said. “Tyler is on the right, and they have a yin and yang thing going where they play with each other well. I expect a great season out of both of those guys.”
Braz Alvernaz is one of the reasons why the Balers will play at a faster pace this season. A junior defender, Alvernaz possesses athleticism and quickness, something that has been somewhat lacking on the team in previous years.
“This year we have a lot of athletic defensemen,” Jones said. “The plan is for the defenseman to get the ball and transition to our middies and attackers. We’re going to run and gun this year because we have the athletes to do it. I think we’ll be quite successful playing that style, and Braz is one of those players who allow us to do that because of his athletic ability.”
If Alvernaz provides athleticism and speed, then senior defender Cade Neece provides the physical presence. As the team’s crease defender—the area around the goal—Neece’s job is to help the defense be in the right position and keep a clear line of sight for White to see the ball.
“Cade is there to make sure no one is on our porch,” Jones said. “He’s pretty much the muscle in the middle of the defense. He’s there so no one can get easy goals right around our goalie.”
Last season, San Benito hit its peak midway through the season before enduring a lull. This season, the Balers are intent on being strong from start to finish.
“This year we hope to hit our plateau and keep on going,” Jones said.
A good barometer for the team is where it finishes in relation to Salinas High, which is also a third-year program.
“That’s pretty much where I would like us to finish—ahead of Salinas,” Jones said. “My thing is as long as we get better every week, that’s all that matters.”