San Benito's Kayla Champion and Christopher's Gina Rodriguez compete for the ball during the Balers' 1-0 win on Jan. 10. Champion scored the only goal of the game.

One month ago, the San Benito High girls’ soccer team was coming off a three-game losing streak, having been outscored 9-1 in the process.
Instead of losing confidence, the Haybalers, who were 4-3-1 overall and 2-0-0 and in first place entering Wednesday’s Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division match against Gilroy — the result was not available before this edition went to press — used the defeats to help them improve.
“We didn’t look at those games as losses but rather as a learning experience,” San Benito coach Becky Bonner said. “Playing some strong teams (in non-league) was by design, so when the league season came up, we would be more confident and competent. Last year when we got to the CCS playoffs, we were kind of blown out of the water by the skill level because we didn’t have a very competitive (non-league) schedule. This year we’ll be better prepared.”
Indeed, playing the likes of Palo Alto and Live Oak — two Central Coast Section powers — in non-league action assures San Benito that it won’t run up against tougher competition in league play. On Jan. 10, the Balers defeated Christopher, 1-0, in a key Gabilan Division match. The Cougars are one of the teams expected to battle San Benito for the league championship.
The only goal of the match came when Kayla Champion scored in the 5th minute, and the Balers — spurred on by the strong defensive play of Kristen Callanta, Nicole Hauck, Alexandria Osborne, Serena Adame, Sierra Jackson, Kayleen Hardy and freshman goalkeeper Hailey Blackburn — made the lead stand.
Blackburn and junior Jennifer Martin split time in goal, and when one of them is not playing keeper, they’ll play either as a midfielder or defender.
“Both girls have been phenomenal in their work ethic and attitude,” Bonner said. “Each of them have different strengths, and what’s cool about them is they can both play out in the field at a high level. Jen was connecting on a lot of passes in the midfield against Christopher. And with Hailey, it’s amazing she’s got so much confidence and poise at such a young age. Goalies need to be able to brush things off when they allow a goal, and both of our goalies are kind of a gem in that way.”
Bonner said she’s extremely proud of the players for consistently playing at a high level, whether it’s for a practice or match. Against Christopher, the Balers pushed the pace from the outset, and never let up. On Champion’s goal, Ilanna Woods followed up on the shot, something that didn’t go unnoticed by Bonner.
“Our philosophy is when someone shoots, you have to crash the net,” Bonner said. “On Kayla’s goal, you see Ilanna sprinting to the goal and hustling just in case there was a rebound or deflection, which was beautiful to watch.”
Bonner loves coming to practice everyday, knowing she has a group that is team-oriented and not concerned so much about padding their individual stats.
“Coming to practice is a relaxing time,” Bonner said. “The coaches have been really blessed having girls who care for each other and go all out the entire time. There’s a lot of joy in watching these players develop and seeing their confidence soar.”

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