If Hannah Williams had kept up the scoring average she posted in her first high school game, she’d have 150 career goals by now.
But the four-year varsity starter’s positions have changed as much as her Napa High girls soccer teammates have over the years.
Since she scored a team-high 12 goals and had four assists as a freshman, earning 2015 All-County Newcomer of the Year honors, the Indians have graduated key players – or lost some to basketball with soccer’s move from spring to winter – and Williams hasn’t seen as many passes come her way.
She still remembers her first Napa High goals like it was yesterday, breaking a scoreless tie with Justin-Siena with both just before halftime en route to a 6-0 win.
“It was a really good feeling because I was really nervous being on varsity,” Williams recalled. “My sister (Ashton Tapp) was the goalie and all of her friends she’d grown up playing with, and I’d grown up watching play club soccer, were all on the team. So I finally got a chance to play with them, side by side, for two years and it was really, really cool. I felt like I belonged and it was really, really fun. I’d never played forward before, always played midfield, but as soon as I scored, (head coach Milton Gallegos) put me at forward.”
That was the first game as Napa High head coach for Gallegos.
“That kind of set the tone for the next four years for Hannah,” he said. “She has been a consistent player ever since.”
The last two seasons were the dark ages for Napa High, with winless Monticello Empire League campaigns of 0-8-2 in 2016 and 0-10 in 2016-17.
“Sophomore year was a really bad year for the whole team. We had to find different ways to enjoy the games because we were so behind in our skills. We just had to make the most of it and have fun,” Williams said. “Going to winter (last season) was a big change, too, because we were used to playing in nice warm weather and now we were playing in 40-degree weather at 6 or 7 at night, and we’ve lost a lot of players to basketball, really vital players.”
Soccer’s move to winter also meant 10 league games instead of 15, and more preseason games to make up for it.
“Last year we lost a lot of people in injuries in preseason because we had so many games and we were still recovering when league came around,” Williams said. “We had to change lineups and what we were doing, so we’ve had to adjust a lot.”
Williams did score six goals last season, including four of Napa’s six league goals.
Ironically, that season started just after the under-17 Napa United club team she and Napa High leading scorer Alexia Kountouris played on, the Bolts, won the Gold Division of the NorCal Premier League’s Region 2, 3, 4 South under head coach Chad LeTourneau. The Bolts finished a strong third last fall.
Thankfully for Gallegos, soccer is not all about scoring for Williams, and she has found other ways to enjoy the game and lead the team.
That’s also the way it is for fellow senior captain Berenice Lara-Gonzalez. She also earned All-County honors after her first varsity season, as Defensive Player of the Year, though she made her varsity debut as a junior.
Like Williams, Lara-Gonzalez had started playing soccer as an elementary schooler. But she took off her freshman year to focus on her first year as an instructor in her other – perhaps greater – passion of taekwondo with Sidekicks Martial Arts of Napa.
Lara-Gonzalez said she teaches taekwondo students ranging in age from 4 to over 60.
“Bere brought that martial arts discipline to the field – the toughness, the center of gravity, the balance, so she’s a two-sport athlete in that sense,” Gallegos said. “She leads by example. A lot of people can direct traffic and talk the talk, but she walks the walk too. She always gives 100 percent – same with Hannah. It may be a good day, it may be a bad day, but you know that you’re going to get fight from them.”
When Lara-Gonzalez came out for Napa High soccer as a sophomore, she was kept at the junior varsity level for the sake of the program, not her skill level. She was a captain of a strong JV team that Gallegos wanted to develop as a unit, in hopes the young players would have chemistry with each other by the time they moved up to the varsity.
“We won quite a bit on JV my sophomore year, so it was a little discouraging at first (to go winless in league) last season,” Lara-Gonzalez said. “I spent a lot of time last year speaking to the coaches and players who were coming back this year, and we’ve definitely picked it up this year. We’ve been more serious about it and everyone is coming to practices and keeping everyone more accountable.”
That young group helped Napa beat Wood 2-0 in its MEL opener this year, and even win 1-0 over crosstown rival Vintage in a Big Game two weeks ago – getting its first-half goal from Lara-Gonzalez.
“It was a big breakthrough when we beat Wood,” Lara Gonzalez said. “It gave us extra energy, like ‘We can actually win this year.’ Everyone’s wanting to try super hard this year, everybody’s really close. We varsity players give goodie bags to our JV team that say ‘Good luck’ or ‘Good job’ – they’re like our little sisters – and we do team bonding things.”
Napa (6-10-3, 2-5 MEL) will take on Vintage (2-9-1, 1-6 MEL) again at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday at Memorial Stadium, needing another win to have any hope of getting to the section playoffs.
“It’s going to be a very intense and crazy game,” said Williams. “I know a lot of their seniors, like (Bolts teammates) Jordan Cooper and Jessica Schreuder, and a lot of us have been playing since we were little, so it’ll be one of our last soccer games. It’ll be emotional.”
Though she scored her first-ever Big Game goal and her team won two weeks ago, it wasn’t the best night for Lara-Gonzalez. She slipped and sustained a slight fracture of her right arm in the second half and missed two games. But she was able to play for most of Thursday’s 2-0 loss at first-place Armijo, and expects to play against Vintage.
Lara-Gonzalez was the Indians’ only All-MEL First Team selection last season, a midfielder who filled in at goalkeeper for a few games when the other net minders had been injured.
“This year when our goalkeeper got a severe finger injury the game before Big Game, Bere stepped up and played keeper for 80 minutes – against the first-place team, Armijo,” Gallegos said. “They beat us 3-0, not because she let in easy goals but because they earned them.
“I’ve asked her and Hannah to move to different positions. They’ve been wings, they’ve been center mids together, and one was a forward. I swapped them this season after Bere got a pretty bad ankle injury. When she recovered, I put her at forward to take a little (pressure) off her and Hannah stepped into the second mid spot after playing forward all year. No matter what I do, those two have always been that center core in our attack and they’ve consistently scored.”
Kountouris leads the Indians with 10 goals so far this season, with Williams now playing center back and Lara-Gonzalez at forward.
“Even though we’ve taken the statistics away from Hannah, her play-making ability has been completely valuable to us all year,” Gallegos said. “I hate moving starters around, but we do that with players we believe are mature enough to understand why we’re moving them. I’ve even had Hannah fall back as a fifth defender just to hold the lead in a 1-0 game. The best soccer players understand the game, and if you put them in a different spot, even though it’s not what they’re used to and they might be thrown off timing-wise, they’re not completely lost on what the position entails. Hannah and Bere check off those boxes.”
Lara-Gonzalez plans to major in biology and human development at a four-year school next year. She has been accepted to Grand Canyon University of Phoenix, Ariz., the alma mater of Napa assistant coach Adrian Guetter. But she’s looking to compete in taekwondo in college and said UC Davis has a good program for that.
“I really look up to Bere,” Williams said. “She doesn’t play competitive (club) soccer like Alexia or I do, but she has a natural talent for it and she’s a really good leader, too. She’s always trying to lift up the team’s spirits and keep us going. I really enjoy being captains with her.”
Williams plans to study marine biology or zoology and attend a four-year school such as UC Santa Barbara, Cal Poly, UC Santa Cruz or UC Davis, and play intramural soccer.
“Hannah is a great player,” Lara-Gonzalez said. “She kind of reminds me of me – she never likes sitting on the bench and she’s always giving 100 percent and giving good advice and talks to the team. She’s a great captain and definitely a team player.”