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About three weeks ago, Hector Contreras was preparing for harvest when an intriguing opportunity presented itself.

His sister-in-law, a member of the Calistoga girls soccer team, told him of the Wildcats’ somewhat dire situation where they lacked a head coach with their first game of the season rapidly approaching. She encouraged him to apply for the position, which was still empty after a disappointing 2018 campaign that was cut short almost as soon as it had begun due to a lack of players.

This fall, the Wildcats had the numbers but needed a coach.

Contreras, a 2012 graduate of Calistoga High, had always wanted to be a head coach. So he jumped at the opportunity. He was hired just days before Calistoga’s first game on Sept. 11, and will guide the Wildcats in what he hopes is a resurgent season this fall.

“This is my first year as a varsity coach for the high school girls, but we’re on the right track and we have a good mindset to win,” Contreras said before Monday’s practice. “This year’s goal is to make it to playoffs, and it looks like we’re going to do it. Hopefully we win league, but that’s something we’re going to work on these next few games to see where we’re at.”

The Wildcats are a veteran-heavy group this year, with 13 seniors making up a majority of the team. They are Ashley Recinos, Victoria Montanez, Jackie Alvarado, Stephanie Ochoa, Lizbet Escobedo, Lesly Salazar, Perla Dominguez, Dayana Cardona, Esme Rivera-Castro, Elin Carllson, Maritza Marin, Jennifer Gonzalez and Ebony Castillo. The rest of the team is made up of juniors Karina Marin, Erendira Robledo, Kalena Vega and Lupita Rubio, and sophomore Julissa Vazquez.

As of Tuesday, the Wildcats were 2-2 on the season. They dropped their first two games, to Upper Lake, 6-0, and Credo, 7-3, but rebounded with two convincing wins over Anderson Valley, 9-1, and Tomales, 9-2, over the last week. They entered North Central League II play on Wednesday against Roseland University Prep, a team Contreras believes will be one of the league’s tougher teams.

While this is his first varsity coaching job, Contreras has a background in soccer in the area. He played for the Calistoga boys team for four years and competed in men’s club teams in the valley and over the hill in Santa Rosa. He’s also coached U16 boys club soccer in Calistoga.

So far, Contreras has spent the first several weeks of his tenure getting to know his team. Because of his existing relationship with his sister-in-law, that process has been easier than normal. Look no further for proof of this than Monday, his 26th birthday, when the team surprised him with cake and a hand-decorated poster before their practice.

“That helps me because it builds this trust and confidence in each other,” Contreras said of his positive rapport with the team. “… It’s all about trust, and luckily, they trust me and we’re seeing results.”

He’s also learning more about his players after being thrust into the coaching position with little preparation.

“It’s half and half a new team and veteran team,” he said. “We have some good seniors and a lot of new faces, but they’re picking it up. We’re a competitive team so far.”

Contreras, the Wildcats’ sixth new head coach in as many years, said he wants to get the girls soccer program back on its feet after last season was cut short. Calistoga played only a handful of games over the first month of the 2018 season before losing most of its roster to academic ineligibility.

Those issues don’t seem to be present anymore, which has allowed Contreras to turn his focus to the bigger picture. He wants, and believes, his team can get back to the postseason and compete for a league title.

“I want get back there and try to compete in playoffs,” he said. “I think it’s very possible, and I think we’ll achieve it. At first they doubted themselves, but little by little they’ve started to believe in themselves and that’s all that matters.”

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Sports Reporter

Gus Morris covers St. Helena and Calistoga sports for the Napa Valley Register. Before joining the Register in 2018, he covered collegiate sports for the student publication at the University of Oregon.