Under coach Marco Orozco, the San Benito High boys soccer team has quietly established itself as a consistently solid unit that will compete and play to its potential.
In the Covid spring season, the Haybalers entered the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs with an 8-0-2 record only to be bounced unceremoniously in the opening round by Sacred Heart Prep, 8-1. The Gators went on to win the title and wasn’t challenged the entire way, so say what you will about the score, but San Benito’s loss came to a premier squad.
The Balers moved down to the Pacific Coast League’s Mission Division for this season, and conventional wisdom says they’re either the favorite or one of the top two or three teams in the division considering they’ve spent the better part of the last decade in the top A league. San Benito was 2-2-3 through its first seven games of the season, which has been characterized by constant change.
“We’ve been dealing with a lot of injured players every game,” Orozco said. “Every game we’ve been having to switch things around and adjust as we go because a couple of guys get hurt on the spot. Other than that, we’re hanging in there and trying to put up a good fight.”
That’s exactly what the team did in a scoreless draw against Menlo-Atherton in the Homestead Tournament on Dec. 18.
“Menlo was a lot bigger than us. We’re on the smaller and scrawny side, but we played through it,” said Hernan Alvarez Funes, the team’s standout sophomore forward. “A lot of us were hurting after the game, but overall we did a good job of communicating and I felt like we played better and were more unified as a team.”
Funes scored 12 goals in 11 matches in the spring season, showing from the get-go he was a true difference-maker.
“He’s a great student-athlete and just a great kid,” Orozco said. “Hernan got a little faster and is more built physically. You can tell he’s been working out.”
Funes plays left wing and is the lone striker when the team goes to a 4-2-3-1 formation. In the latter formation, opponents tend to shadow two defenders on Funes, which opens things up for San Benito to counter.
“I feel like this year’s team is better technically,” Funes said. “Last year because of Covid, we didn’t really come in contact with each other for a while. This year, we’re able to communicate and practice more.”
Funes said playing at both the high school and club level is necessary to become a more well-rounded player.
“In high school, you’re playing against older kids so that helps me on the physical side,” he said. “I have to know how to use my body and control the ball with them pressuring me. With club I get a lot of work technical-wise because we’re always doing passing and footwork drills.”
The Balers have two experienced goalkeepers in junior Bryan Navarrete and senior Chris Jamrok, who also plays his club ball for FC Bay Area Surf and was recently invited to try out for Club America Academy in Mexico City.
“Both are solid keepers, but unfortunately, only one can play,” Orozco said. “Chris is a great leader in the back and that’s what makes the difference. He’s talking to the defense and directing, but Bryan has also stepped up when Chris got hurt for a game.”
Orozco calls sophomore defender Adan Serrato San Ramon “the future of the Balers team” because of his reliable play, solid ball skills and ability to read the field well. Junior midfielder Eusebio Rivera-Villalobos has the proverbial motor that never stops.
“He’s always hustling and going hard but fair,” Orozco said.
Senior Andrew Castanon possesses solid ball-control skills, and junior Ezekiel Hernandez has made an impact with his ability to possess the ball and distribute it in a way that keeps the attack going.
“Ezekiel has got great mobility and is always looking for the best option,” Orozco said.
Funes said if everyone does their part to work hard and improve aspects of their game—himself included—the team can make another good run.
“The goal is to try to get back to CCS and do better than what we did last year,” he said. “If we can progress, maybe we can get back and win CCS this year.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958