Coming off its first-ever appearance in a Central Coast Section playoff championship game, the San Benito High girls soccer team looks poised to have another strong season.
The Haybalers went 5-5 in the Covid spring season and made it all the way to the Division III title match before falling to a superior Chrisotpher team, 7-0. This year’s San Benito squad is deeper and more talented, putting expectations high.
“It’s really nice having a full squad again because at the end of last year we were literally limping along because we had so many people hurt,” Balers coach Becky Bonner said. “So it’s really great to have not only a full team, but girls who can play multiple positions. Now we have subs for multiple positions which we haven’t had in the last few years.”
San Benito won four of its first five games, including a 4-0 blanking of Monta Vista of Cupertino on Dec. 7. Ryen Ortiz scored two goals and Saavedra Allen and Laine Lowi added one goal apiece as the Balers found their rhythm in the second half and controlled the time of possession.
“We started off pretty flat so we talked at halftime on what we needed to adjust,” Bonner said. “In the second half we were playing more together as a team, and a lot of that is making sure we were communicating and moving off the ball.”
San Benito also improved its spacing in the final 40 minutes, which helped create more scoring opportunities and at the same time led to tougher defense. Ortiz is one of the impact players back on the team after skipping the Covid spring season.
Agile, quick and explosive, Ortiz could be vying for Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division Most Valuable Player honors at the end of the season. In the blink of an eye, she can turn, get up field and put a shot on goal that otherwise seemed non-existent just moments earlier.
Ortiz and fellow senior Lowi should make for a lethal 1-2 combination throughout the season. Lowi has tremendous ball-control skills and sees plays opening up before they happen. Ortiz launched an absolute rocket left-footed shot from 31 yards away on her second goal, an unstoppable shot that sailed to the back of the net and just under the crossbar in the 71st minute.
Lowi had an equally superb highlight-reel moment just a minute earlier, as she intercepted a Monta Vista pass before she dribbled 12 yards—juking a defender en route to the goal—and then burying a shot to the lower right corner.
“Laine has been dynamic for us since her freshman year,” Bonner said. “She’s a leader for us on and off the field and works really hard offensively and defensively.”
Jimena Heredia and Trinity Arias are also strong center midfielders and the team has depth at the position with Alondra Salazar-Santos and Sheila Ienni. Kylie Sparks has led the charge at defender and possesses great anticipation and awareness, allowing her to stifle opposing teams when they’re building up an attack or threatening to make a play inside the 18-yard box.
“Kylie is fast, consistent and has been really great,” Bonner said.
Bonner added that Lilly Prescott has done an excellent job on the outside carrying the ball upfield, while the 1-2 goalkeeper combination of Gisele Santillan and Shaelyn Tamez have been solid as they usually rotate halves. The Balers should be able to score a lot of goals this season as Ortiz, Lowi and Nicole Maduena are capable of scoring on a moment’s notice.
Allen has a nose for the goal which was evident on her score against Monta Vista. Running down the left flank parallel to Ortiz who was flying down the right side, Allen got herself in position at the far post when Ortiz sent a beautiful cross that Allen one-timed to make it 2-0 in the 60th minute.
The play displayed the Balers’ quick-strike capability, something they haven’t had in a couple of years, if not longer.
“This is the first time in a few years where you can visibly see that when they get moving and in rhythm, a few of them are going to be able to pistol towards the frame, and that’s very exciting,” Bonner said.
And the best part about all this is San Benito has yet to fully coalesce as it’s still early in the season.
“The dynamic is there; we just have to piece it all together on the field,” Bonner said. “Going from the back to the front once we connect and get it, it’s going to be really good.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.