Outside of Alyvia Fiske winning a national wrestling title, the winter of 2016-17 was fairly frustrating for Vintage High athletics overall.
The girls basketball and girls soccer teams each tied for third place in Monticello Empire League play and lost a coin flip for the league’s third and final CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth.
The boys basketball team didn’t have much luck at all, finishing 0-10 in MEL play.
The boys soccer team finished undefeated in MEL play to earn its fourth straight home playoff opener, then lost a postseason game at Memorial Stadium for the first time since 2012.
In boys wrestling, three Crushers reached the Masters Meet, but went a combined 1-6 there to fall short of their first state meets.
Girls wrestler Martha Avina is hungry for a bit more success this season after going 0-2 at her first state meet.
Here’s a look at how the Crushers are shaping up this winter:
After tying Rodriguez for third place with a 4-4-2 MEL record and missing the playoffs on a coin flip, the Crushers thought they would have leading scorer Cailin LeTourneau back for another shot at it this season. But the All-MEL First Team forward with 11 goals is apparently focusing on club soccer after recently helping the Napa United under-19 women win the NorCal Premier Gold Region 3/4 Fall League.
The silver lining is that Vintage will be that much less predictable to opponents. Sophomore returner Irais Hernandez leads the Crushers with three goals, while seniors Maggie Carpenter and Julia Kiser, sophomore Lauren Wagner and freshman Mary Deeik have one goal apiece.
“We’ll have to (score) as a team now, even more,” said second-year Crushers head coach Miguel Ayala. “People have to step up, and we definitely have girls who can do that. We always try to keep a varietal attack, get everybody involved. That’s always been the game plan and we’re going to stick to it.
“There are good teams in our league and it’s going to be a battle again. We’re going to have to compete. That’s all I ask of the girls, to compete. If they do that, you can’t be too upset with the results.”
Ayala said he has about a half-dozen seniors leading his 19-player squad.
“We’re still young, but we still have some experience,” he said.
After getting first-game jitters out during a home scrimmage against American Canyon, the Crushers gave up three first-half goals in a 3-0 loss at Benicia.
“We played them well in the second half,” Ayala said of the Panthers. “They were bigger, stronger and faster than us, but skill-wise we were able to keep up with them, which was nice. We’re going to have to do that all year – out-technique teams, and have a lot more touch, because we’re physically smaller. But it’s OK, because we’re smart.”
After Carpenter scored in a 1-1 tie against Justin-Siena, Vintage (1-1-1) broke out with a 6-0 home rout of Rio Vista last Wednesday.
“We needed a game like that to get the offense going,” Ayala said of the win. “But I was really happy with the way we played against Justin, too.”
Next up is a road game against defending Solano County Athletic Conference champion Vanden at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
Upperclassmen such as senior Jordan Cooper have been leading the team in the early going, but Ayala said captains will be determined weekly.
“I like to reward the girls who demonstrate (leadership) daily,” he said. “I don’t want them to get complacent. I have five freshmen or sophomores who could start. I just want to have the best 11 to compete and represent Vintage to the fullest.”
The Crushers not only came up a coin flip short of snapping a nine-year playoff drought last season, but lost the league berth to rival Napa High after beating the Indians by 21 points in their finale. It was an impressive high school coaching debut for Joe Donohoe, who was named All-County Co-Coach of the Year.
“I am very proud of the season we had last year,” he said. “I couldn’t have hand-picked a better group of young ladies to fill the roster on my first varsity team. They continually worked hard throughout the season, and we were playing our best basketball at the end of the year.
“It was disappointing to have it come to an end on a coin flip. But, like all adversity, it’s how you respond that matters, and we will hopefully be able to earn a spot this year without it coming to that.”
His eight returners are led by five players who are in their third varsity seasons – seniors Carlyn Bacci, Bailey Loban and Maggie Schuh, and juniors Alyssa Andrews and Kate Ilsley.
“Carlyn missed last season with a knee injury that kept her out last year, but she has worked very hard to get back on the floor and is playing very well,” Donohoe said. “Megan is an all-around tremendous player. She shoots well, rebounds and plays solid defense.
“Bailey has one speed, fast, and she continually sets the energy level that our team tries to match. She is one of the best defenders in the MEL and she brings relentless effort nightly. Maggie Schuh is one of our top outside shooters. She stretches the defense when she’s on the floor because of her 3-point shooting ability. Lily Meyers is the busiest young lady I know. She is a fantastic leader and teammate and is a force inside the paint, rebounding and defending the post.”
Andrews was the team’s leading scorer, making the All-MEL First Team.
“Alyssa is a handful for other teams to deal with,” Donohoe said. “Her outside shot has improved, which makes her much harder to defend as she loves to get to the rim as well. She is also a stellar defensive player and a team leader.
The versatile Ilsley received All-MEL honorable mention last winter despite a slow start due to a foot injury.
“Kate can do it all,” the coach said. “She is a fantastic all-around basketball player who fills up the stat sheet night in and night out. She is a joy to coach and an incredible teammate.”
With seniors Megan Kuehl and Lily Meyers and junior Nicole Gleeson also back, Vintage’s returning cast came into the season with a combined 21 years of varsity experience.
“Nicole is improving daily. Her athleticism is off the charts,” Donohoe said. “She has unbelievable basketball instincts and she changes the spacing for opponents because of her length and ability. She always keeps us smiling and is also a great teammate, too.”
New to the varsity are six players from a JV team that won the MEL title last season – juniors Emily Harlow, Alany Flores, Maite Macias, Dellaina Morse and Maya Sapienza, and sophomore Morgan Groves.
“Collectively this group knows how to win and how to work hard,” Donohoe said of the newcomers. “They are all contributing already to our squad.”
Vintage returns the Napa County Player of the Year in senior Marco Manzo, who leads the Crushers (6-1-1) with six goals and adds an assist going into Wednesday night’s game at Vallejo.
Manzo came close to scoring in last year’s playoff loss, one the Crushers hope to atone for this year.
“Winning league and then losing that first playoff game was definitely bitter for us,” Vintage head coach Bernie Ochoa said. “Now they want to go deep in the playoffs and leave the section on a good note.”
Manzo doesn’t have to do it all, though, as senior Alex Cendejas (three goals, assist) and junior Juan Carlos Zepeda (two goals, three assists) have also emerged as offensive threats.
“We’re an all-around team and we’re going to come at you from different angles,” Ochoa said. “Marco becomes a marked man, but he’s a smart guy and knows that when he has the ball he might have two or three guys on him, so he’s able to exploit that and distribute because he knows it opens up the game for other players.”
The other seniors are Miguel Gallegos, Gustavo Maldonado, Miguel Plancarte, Julio Leal Ruiz and Julian Vazquez. The other juniors are Erick Cid, Eddy Gonzalez, Oscar Loyola, Diego Cortez, Gerardo Fuentes, Cole Geshwender, Jesus Gonzalez, Julian Padilla, Carlos Ayala and Edgar Correa. Rounding out the team are sophomore Christian Ceja and freshmen Gerardo Perez and Angel Tapia.
Ochoa said he and JV head coach Javier Covarrubias tried to pack the preseason schedule with as many of last year’s league champions and runners-up as possible. They got San Rafael, River City, Bethel, American Canyon and McClatchy in the former category, and River Valley in the latter. Sonoma Valley and Davis finished third and Vallejo fourth last season, but were in the hunt until the end.
“This being our last year in the Sac-Joaquin Section, we wanted to go out playing the best teams and also do well against them and take that into league play and playoffs,” Ochoa said. “We thought it would be better to play good opponents even if we didn’t do well, and hopefully the section would take that into consideration when seeding us.”
Anchoring the defense are center backs Gallegos and Maldonado, right back Jesus Gonzalez, and Vazquez, Correa or Cortez at left back, along with goalkeepers Ayala and Perez
“In most cases we have too many offensive players, but this year we have a good solid defensive unit to where we can sub in and sub out,” Ochoa said.
Maldonado can use his height for more than clearing balls. In a 1-0 win at Monte Vista in Danville early this month, he headed in a cross with 30 seconds left.
“It was a soccer buzzer-beater,” Ochoa said, noting that there is no stoppage time when a North Coast Section team hosts a game. “That was our best game so far, a good tactical game. We’re hoping we’re getting stronger as the year goes on, learning from every game.”
Isaiah Garcia, after quarterbacking the football team to the playoffs, hopes to qualify for his third section Masters Meet, but the senior has to find out if he can wrestle at all first.
“He goes in for an MRI (Wednesday),” Crushers head coach Travis Newton said. “He still has some shoulder issues from football, since the first game – that’s why you didn’t see him throwing the ball too much. We’re hoping it’s something minor that we can work through. Isaiah is extremely tough, so seeing him sitting out of practice says it’s a lot worse than we want it to be. He’s still a captain, he still goes to practice and he still rolls, but we have to be careful when it comes to live wrestling.”
Fellow seniors Kolton Dikeman, Aleko Smith and James Robert will all be looking for their second appearances. Robert went to Masters with Garcia as a sophomore, but his junior season started late and was ended before the MEL Championships due to illness and injury.
“Now he’s a senior, so he has less schoolwork, less stress,” Newton said. “You can tell his mindset’s different this year in practice. He’s leading by example and putting in the extra effort.”
Tucker Lanoue and Robert earned gold medals at 145 and 182 pounds, respectively, each going 4-0 with two pins, to lead Vintage at San Marin’s Green & Gold Tournament in Novato on Saturday.
“Tucker is a really good addition,” Newton said of the American Canyon transfer, who also ran cross country this fall. “I think he really thrives with us because he’s got a bunch of tough kids in his weight class on the team.”
Taking fourth place was 285-pounder Konrad Fiske, who went 2-2 with a pin. Placing fifth were 160-pounder Antonio Macedo (160) and Smith (182), each going 3-2 with a pin. Taking sixth were Jessie Chaidez (152), Sam Carter (170) and Justin Ellis (182), each going 1-2. Dikeman (132) went 2-2 before having to withdraw due to injury.
Also expected to perform well this season will be Dominic Smith, Demetrio Martin and Justin Verville.
“There’s a really great energy this year,” Newton said. “You don’t often get kids who are excited to wrestle because it’s a grind, it’s a tough sport, but we have kids who are excited to wrestle. (Football head coach) Dylan Leach has been supportive, sending kids our way, and the parents.”
Along with Avina (200 pounds), Chloe Jones (120), Erika Eberhardt (146) and IzzaBelle Ygnalaga (135) all opened the season by taking first place at the Vallejo Invitational on Dec. 2. Placing second were Madeline Maurer (115), Shawana Ma and Romina Castro (154).
“We’ve got some really tough girls,” Newton said. “The one I think is going to do really well throughout her wrestling career is Maddie, because she plays lacrosse, water polo and wrestling. I’ve never met a girl that does those three extremely tough sports, and she will put a smile on her face every day. What was really cool was that she said ‘I’ve got a lot to learn’ after she got second place.”
New head coach Rob Johnson inherited a 15-game losing streak and saw it extend to 17 games to start the season, but the Crushers snapped it with a 33-point rout over Pioneer and a seven-point win over Vallejo at the Wine Valley Tournament. They beat Pioneer again last week in Woodland, and will try to do the same at home Wednesday against Vallejo.
“It’s a process. We’re taking it step by step,” Johnson said after the skid-snapping win. “We’re a new staff. We’re trying to build our culture the way we want it to be and that can take some time. But we know where we want to go, and in doing that, we have to do some things that makes our guys uncomfortable, like work every single second of every single minute out there.”
Vintage’s seniors are all returners – 6-foot-5 forward Damian Alfaro, 6-3 forward Davis Chandler, 6-0 guard Prateek Sunder, and 5-9 guard David Fernandez. The juniors include returning varsity guards Abrahan Cortes, Jared Rendon and Max Phipps, JV pull-ups Jakob Bittner and Hunter Gutierrez, and Trinity Prep transfer Grant Polk. Phipps started on varsity as a freshman but was out with a football injury last season. Alfaro, Gutierrez and Polk are the tallest Crushers at 6-5.
Also new to the varsity are 6-3 sophomores Blake Murray and Imani Lopez, one of their most electric players.