Hollister High senior midfielder and co-captain McKenzie Heckman, seen here pushing the ball upfield in a non-league match against Gilroy on Dec. 7, is one of the team's top returners. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

In Becky Bonner’s decade-long tenure as the Hollister High girls soccer coach, she’s never carried more than three freshmen on the team in a given year. 

Until now. The Haybalers have eight freshmen and seven seniors to go along with sophomores and juniors filling out the rest of the 19-player roster. So far, Bonner has liked how the players have been coming together and displaying teamwork in the process. 

“It’s been great to see the older girls show leadership and the younger girls step up and give everything they have,” Bonner said last week. “So right now we’re trying to work with the group and figure out who the starters are going to be. We’re building the dynamic and working on defense, positions, shifting. They’re all soccer smart but when you get a new group, it takes time to allow that chemistry to come together.”

Hollister was 1-3-1 after sustaining a 2-1 loss to Rancho San Juan on Dec. 12. With perennial Central Coast Section power Christopher High having switched leagues, this represents the best opportunity in several years for teams like Hollister and Salinas to win a Gabilan Division championship. 

The Balers have two non-league games left before league play starts on Jan. 3. Bonner likes the talent on the team and even more important, the players’ character. Hollister has four players who will be in the regular forward rotation, including Sydney Stacy and Lauren Green, who played defense last season. Both players possess solid shots and should create scoring opportunities for themselves and the team. 

Freshmen Summer Forrest and Zamaya Rivera complement Stacy and Green well. In the early going Rivera has displayed impressive scoring ability, with two goals in the season-opener against Soquel and another against Gilroy.

“Syd and Lauren make really good runs on the ball and Zamaya and Summer are very physical and really great at being able to get to the ball first,” Bonner said. “And once they get to the ball, they’re explosive in their movement off the ball. All four bring something unique to the table and it’s really cool seeing the dynamic when they play with each other because we play with two forwards [at a time].”

The Balers are primed to be strong in the midfield as well with returners Trinity Arias, McKenzie Heckman, Jimena Heredia and Saavedra Allen. Arias and Heckman are the co-captains. Jesseira Allen, Kylie Varnes and Kacey Yannone also figure to make an impact. Bonner said Yannone has “great speed” and the group overall has shown plenty of promise. 

“They all play a little differently and realistically I can pop them all in for different situations and allow them to play and see what they can create at any given moment,” Bonner said. 

Senior Alexis Montoya is the only returner at defender, so she’ll be counted upon to provide leadership and solid play once again. Montoya is known for having a high work rate as does sophomore Morgen Ortiz.

“Morgen is very solid in the center, is great at communicating and has great vision with the ball,” Bonner said. 

Four freshmen are in the backline rotation, including Karen Alvarado-Castillo, Madison Cousins, Elyssa Hernandez and Jazleen Florez. The eight freshmen are no doubt talented because Bonner doesn’t believe in carrying freshmen on the team unless they have a legitimate opportunity to get game action. 

“I won’t keep freshmen [on the varsity] unless I know they’re going to play,” she said. “In this case all the girls are playing. It’s a very talented group, very hard working, and they come from different club teams and backgrounds. The entire team, it’s just a really great group of girls and how they treat everyone around them is great. They’re great representatives of what student-athletes should be, which is very nice.” 

Hollister has two terrific returning goalkeepers in Shaelyn Tamez and Gisele Santillan. In the leadup to the league season, Tamez and Santillan are splitting time in goal. A year ago, Tamez played most of the Gabilan Division games once league play started. 

“Both girls are dynamic and play a little differently which is a huge asset to our program,” Bonner said. 

Tamez has made some highlight-reel saves in big matches over the years. 

“In CCS [playoffs] two years ago she had some amazing saves that kept us alive and helped us advance,” Bonner said. “She’s been great in penalty kick shootouts and is very talented. She makes these saves where you watch them on film and they’re just amazing. Some of the stuff she does can be looped into trending because she’s so quick and her vertical leap is impressive.”

Bonner highlighted the Tamez-Santillan relationship as a great dynamic because they support each other knowing only one of them can be on the field at a time. 

“And they’re friends so it’s a great thing when they get along really well,” Bonner said. “They do warmups together and so it’s a really positive environment to have them together.”

Jimena Heredia is part of a strong core of midfielders for the Hollister girls soccer team. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Defender Karen Alvarado-Castillo is one of eight freshmen on the Hollister team. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Haybalers freshman Zamaya Rivera wins a header during a 2-2 tie with Gilroy on Dec. 7. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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