The seniors on the St. Helena High girls soccer team are trying to keep the freshmen humble, but they’ll also concede that this next wave of talent is legit.
The freshmen class, made up of Cydney Adamson, Harper McClain, Ali Flamson and Tina Almanza, has made an immediate impact on a roster that was already overflowing with championship-caliber moxie.
Through last Thursday’s win over Clear Lake, which completed a rare season sweep of the pesky Cardinals, Adamson leads the team with nine goals and also has six assists. McClain is fourth on the team with four goals and, with Almanza, handles most of the corner-kicking duties – one of the most vital components in a well-rounded offense.
“They’ve been amazing … and have been absolutely instrumental in our success,” said first-year head coach Tash Bunge. “They came in with different roles and then we figured out a different system to put them in and they’ve definitely flourished.”
The youngsters complement a core of players that have extensive playoff experience, good chemistry, and high-caliber fundamentals that pass the eye test with flying colors every time they step onto the field.
Bunge and assistant coach Hernan Granados inherited a group poised for success and, as Bunge put it, there are no prima donnas. The team has bought in to what they’re selling, embraced the task at-hand, and is hungry to overcome perennial champion Middletown and bring a North Central League I banner to St. Helena.
The Saints boast an 8-2 overall record and a 7-1 mark in league, with the lone loss coming from the Mustangs on Sept. 2, falling 2-0 in Middletown. They’ll get a chance to avenge the loss on Oct. 25 at home.
“We have strong players throughout the field, so you can really trust each other and a lot of us have been playing together since we were like 8 years old,” said senior co-captain Katie Johnson. “We know each other’s playing styles – like I know when Cynthia (Vargas is) in a certain position where she’s going to pass it. Just that comfort with each other’s playing styles and then incorporating these new players with such strong skills – we have this real good rhythm and you see that in small glimpses throughout our games. I think we’re going to improve on that.”
The Saints are led by Johnson’s co-captain, Vargas, who was last year’s All-Napa County Co-Player of the Year and entered her senior season solidified as one of the best strikers to ever put on a St. Helena uniform.
She’s a two-time First Team All-Leaguer, and all the accolades and recognition she’s had as a legitimate college prospect have given her every right to play with fire and the kind of attitude required to be a dominant scorer.
But she’s also prioritizing the team’s success, evidenced by her continued development as an all-purpose playmaker. Vargas has a team-high eight assists, and trails Adamson in goals with eight.
As to how this has happened, well, it goes back to Bunge’s point about the lack of egos, and the overall camaraderie that’s developed in such a short amount of time.
“I think the trust – our connection came in right away,” Vargas said. “I think it shows a lot on the field because, when we score, we go right away to hugging each other; we go right away to giving someone a high-five. It’s rare if we get mad at each other because we’re always happy.”
The midfield may be the most important component of this year’s squad. It features senior Isabelle Ortiz, junior Anne Gallug, Almanza and McClain. Their collective role has been to help the Saints dominate possession and distribute effectively to passing lanes for the forwards to score.
The midfield’s ability to play small ball and work the ball around has led to frustrated opponents and increasing fatigue which has really opened up the Saints’ scoring in the second half.
But while that position group may be the most important in the team’s success so far, the best has been St. Helena’s back line. The defense has allowed six goals through eight league games, trailing only Middletown, which has given up three.
The defense features Johnson, Isabelle Birebent – both seniors – juniors Andrea Hernandez, Citlali Garcia, sophomore Marilyn Wilms, and Flamson. In goal is junior Blayney Adamson, who has been starting between the posts since her freshman season.
“They know that they’re good players,” Bunge said. “When they go on the field they’re confident, they’re loose, but they do have those butterflies in their stomach that makes them competitors, right? That’s what winners are – people who love to compete, and they definitely love to compete.”
St. Helena’s girls soccer team is the only Saints squad that’s won a playoff game since 2014. Last year, they made it all the way to the North Coast Section Division 3 semifinals as the No. 7 seed, highlighted by an upset of second-seeded El Molino in Forestville, 2-0.
“I feel like the team that we’ve built since freshman year, our mentality is the same – winning is fun and that’s our main goal,” said Vargas. “St. Helena, it’s usually about football. But when we have playoff games here and we see all the people that show up, it feels good because girls soccer hasn’t been noticed for I don’t know how many years. And being the ones to bring it back, it feels good. I feel like the girls that just joined, I hope they do better than we did.”
The Saints have just a handful of games to make their push for a league title and solidify home field for the playoffs. They’ve got all the ingredients for another deep run. Maybe this could be the season they get over the hump.
“Every game is important,” said Bunge. “Every team can step up when they see our record … (the girls) know they’ll be gunning for us, and we’ll have to bring our best game to every town.”