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In ultra-tough Gabilan Division, Hollister boys soccer aim to thrive

Hollister High junior center back Adan Serrato-San Ramon, seen here making a pass against Christopher High in their Dec. 6 match, is one of the three Haybalers' captains. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

When Marco Orozco decided to return for a second stint as the head coach of the Hollister High boys soccer team two years ago, his goal was to keep the Haybalers in the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s upper Gabilan Division.

A lot of that will depend on how Hollister does this season, as it’s back in the Gabilan after winning the Mission Division championship a year ago. In Orozco’s absence, the team got demoted to the Mission Division after back-to-back winless years in the Gabilan spanning the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons. 

Overall, the Balers have had mixed success competing in the Gabilan, which for boys soccer is arguably the best league in the Central Coast Section. Hollister’s highwater mark in the Gabilan Division came in the 2017-2018 season, when it tied for second place with a 6-2-4 record. But since the 2014-2015 season, it has gone a combined 15-32-20 in Gabilan matches. 

“My hope is to finish at least in the top four in the league, because those ones go to the CCS playoffs,” Orozco said. “Finishing in the top four would be good for us. Realistically, do I want to finish first? Yes. But also keeping my feet on the ground, I feel like a top four finish is our goal and would be a step in the right direction coming back to a more competitive division. I feel like that’s where we belong because we have a large enough squad to compete.”

Orozco thinks highly of the talent on this year’s team, and as is the case with all soccer teams at any level, discipline, tactics, playing smart and determination will all play huge factors in the team’s quest for an upper-tier Gabilan Division finish.

Senior right wingback Sergio Ramirez is a deft passer and has the ability to deliver crosses in the attacking half and into the box to set up prime scoring opportunities. His playmaking ability will prove key in the team’s success. And junior central midfielder Gilbert Bolivar can do it all and has the versatility to play on the wing and as an attacking midfielder.

“Gilbert is extremely talented and he’s nonstop in how he plays,” Orozco said. 

Ezekiel Hernandez is another returning starter and had a highlight-reel goal in a season-opening 2-1 win over Greenfield High on Nov. 28. The senior central midfielder can hold the ball well and contributes heavily to the team’s possession-oriented game that features rapid-fire passes all over the field.  

“Ezekiel can play really, really well and helps us a lot,” Orozco said. 

Another senior central midfielder, Eusebio Rivera, plays an instrumental role if he’s playing well, the Balers are controlling the middle and often the match. 

“Once our midfield connects well, I feel like we can dominate a game,” Orozco said. 

Senior Jose Lopez-Zambrano plays a central attacking midfield role and scored a goal in each of the team’s first two matches, the second coming against Santa Teresa High on Dec. 1. Rivera and Lopez-Zambrano had a beautiful give-and-go sequence in the latter match that set up a near-goal midway through the first half. 

The Balers have two capable goalkeepers in senior Bryan Navarrete and junior Josuet Avila. Both have had their moments this season and Orozco might alternate them in halves and matches or a combination of both because they’re even in playmaking ability. 

“They’ll be fighting for the No. 1 spot, and they could be rotating games because it seems like they might be equally talented,” Orozco said. 

Emiliano Castro and tri-captains Abraham Nunez, Adan Serrato-San Ramon and Hugo Catalan figure are playmakers as well, with Castro scoring a goal in the team’s non-league match against Christopher High on Nov. 6. 

Hollister is coming off an impressive season, winning the Mission Division title before losing its CCS playoff opener 2-1 to Alisal, which was the third-place finisher out of the Gabilan with a 7-3 mark and advanced to the Division I championship match. 

“I think we have a squad that is very talented and we just hope we can go on a long run again,” Orozco said.

Balers senior Hugo Catalan successfully heads a ball in their non-league match with CHS. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Balers junior Gilbert Bolivar moves the ball on the attack against Christopher. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.