The Hollister High field hockey team has never won a league championship since it started fielding a program eight years ago.
That all changed this season as the Haybalers have clinched at least a share of the Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division title. Hollister can win it outright with a victory in its season-finale. It entered the week with an undefeated league record after a razor-thin 1-0 win over Salinas High on Oct. 13.
Coach Molly Macierz Svihus, who has been the head coach for all but one year of the program’s existence, no doubt welcomed a competitive contest because Hollister hasn’t received too many challenges in league play this season with the departures of Gilroy and Christopher to the Blossom Valley Athletic League.
“Our goal is to be able to compete with those teams, and I think we showed we could when we played Christopher (on Aug. 25),” Svihus said. “We scored first and ended up losing by one. We look to play teams that can help us improve and see what we need to work on.”
Svihus said while the team doesn’t necessarily have a superstar player, its strength lies in its depth and quality talent at every position. Four-year varsity player Nicole Maduena is one of the catalysts, with her ability to score, move the ball and provide leadership as one of the captains for a second straight season.
“Nicole’s intensity, her determination, her field awareness, they just all add to our play out there,” Svihus said.
McKenzie Heckman, a senior forward/midfielder and PCAL first-team, all-league player a year ago, has followed that up with another terrific season. Heckman is an all-around talent and helps the team in creating turnovers and then launching a counterattack.
“McKenzie has been really strong on the left side and that’s a huge advantage for us,” Svihus said. “She’s really good at stopping teams and knocking down the ball and getting it right back in our possession, so that’s been really awesome. She’s good at team-building things on and off the field. That helps develop the camaraderie, which is great.”
It’s the latter that Svihus has been ecstatic about in regards to this year’s team. She hopes the leadership of the seniors rubs off on all the returning players for next year, and the process repeats itself to build a strong, thriving culture.
“The seniors are friends with the freshmen, sophomores and juniors,” she said. “They all get along and work together to mentor the younger ones. We have four junior standout players and are looking to them to learn from this season and take charge next year. The six or so sophomores have seen their confidence grow this year, too, and we’re excited to see how they play going forward.”
Senior midfielder Ruby Olmos has had a standout season and received praise from Svihus for “really embodying a humble player.” Fellow senior Aliyah Gaytan has been a rock defensively while having the ability to put some shots on goal as well.
Gaytan and Olmos figure prominently into the team’s short corner plays along with Heckman and Maduena.
“They come up with real creative plays and we’ve been working on that because a lot of times short corners is what determines a win and loss,” Svihus said. “If you can execute short corners, you’re going to have a big advantage.”
Junior Teresa Planas is a pure playmaker and facilitates the ball to keep the team’s momentum going during the run of play.
“Teresa has been excellent collaborating with Nicole and McKenzie,” Svihus said. “She’s our best ball-handler and is able to dribble the ball up where there are holes and gaps in the other team’s defense.”
Senior Maggie Ortiz has played her best in the second half of the season, scoring the first goals of her varsity career earlier this month. If Hollister ends up winning the league championship, it will earn an automatic berth into the Central Coast Section playoffs.
That’s why Svihus has the team practicing short corners, rebounds, lifted shots and 1-on-1s, knowing those areas are paramount in the postseason.
“We’re working on things we need to improve on so when we get to the playoffs hopefully, we’re ready to compete against those tougher teams,” Svihus said.
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]