When Ana Herrera was moved from sweeper to midfielder on the American Canyon High girls soccer team early in the season, forward Jaylynn Del Rosario must have known she would be scoring fewer goals than she originally thought.
When they were juniors, playing behind eventual Napa Valley Register Player of the Year Julia Cummings and her 27 goals, Herrera was second on the team with 12 goals and Del Rosario was next with eight.
This winter, Herrera took advantage of her switch to the more offensive position by leading the Wolves with 23 goals. Del Rosario also had her best season, with 16 goals, and didn’t mind that Herrera had outscored her once again.
For one, Herrera helped Del Rosario score some of her goals, by dishing out a team-high 15 assists. Secondly, they’re very supportive of each other.
“That’s my best friend, on and off the field, so the connection is there and we just wanted to see each other do well,” Del Rosario said. “We grew up playing together basically, so if I was doing well, she’d send me balls and if she was doing well, I’d try to draw back and send her balls so she could go up and score. There was never really competition between us. Sometimes it would be me or her or someone else. We had a ton of talented players this year.”
It’s hard to single out players in a sport as team-oriented as soccer, but Herrera’s 61 points made her a fairly obvious choice for Napa Valley Register’s 2017-18 Napa County Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
“I can’t do anything all by myself. You always need somebody to pass it to you and you always need someone to pass it to,” Herrera said. “Our coaching staff would always make it known that we’re not a one-person show, that we’re all a part of a team and so we’re all going to get a win or do well in a game together.”
Herrera had 13 goals and 13 assists in Solano County Athletic Conference games, helping the Wolves (7-2-1 SCAC) edge out Vanden (7-3) for second place behind Benicia (8-1-1).
She wasn’t one to overthink things too much. She just tried to be aggressive.
“If I know I can get a shot off, I definitely take it, whether it’s on my left foot or right,” she said. “Even though my left foot is bit weaker than my right, I still take the shot. I was actually able to score a couple of goals with my left foot. You can’t really go into the game being scared or nervous about whether or not you’re going to make it. You’ve just got to take your shot. If you don’t take your shot, you’ll never know if you would have scored. It’s good to pass it around, but if you know if you can score from where you are, you definitely have to take it.”
Herrera talks in the present tense about soccer because, well, her soccer career is far from over. She’ll be playing for Dominican University of San Rafael this fall.
“My move-in date is Aug. 15 and my first practice is Aug. 16,” she said of the college.
That’s one reason Herrera is participating in track and field for the first time this spring, running the 400 meters with a plan to also run the 800.
“I started track this year to try something new. I also knew college soccer was just around the corner and I would have to put in some extra work to get fit,” she said. “I knew that pushing myself to run with the track runners would improve my speed and give me more stamina and endurance.”
She’s already noticed a difference while playing club soccer with the Davis Legacy.
“After being in track for a couple of months, I feel I’m faster and that I can last longer in a game without getting tired,” she said. “I can continue to make runs and sprints and all that.”
Her Legacy team plays in Phoenix this week and in Portland next week.
“It’s very intense,” she said. “Right after track practice, I go straight to Davis for my soccer practice. We’ll be playing until June.”
But she also enjoys running track with soccer teammates such as Alexus Jackson, Isabelle Ramos, Sophia Conlon and Rebecca Richards.
“It’s a bit harder for me to be fast without a soccer ball in front of me, so I’m not an amazing track runner. But I’m definitely in the middle, so I want to see how much I can accomplish,” she said. “I’m not set on making state or anything, but I definitely want to win races and get some points for my team and set personal records. It’s more of an individual sport, which I’m not used to.”
Her ability to play different positions on the pitch was probably not lost on the Dominican coaches.
“It’s important to be versatile because you never know, depending on the game situation, if you might be needed in a different area, or might be stronger in a different area,” she said. “I played defense almost the entire season last year. If it meant less goals scored on us, I was willing to be back there and take one for the team.”
Her favorite professional player is Mallory Pugh of the Washington (D.C.) Spirit, who is only 19.
“She’s also on the national team and gets a lot of minutes and makes an impact,” Herrera said. “It’s really inspirational to see someone near my age being able to accomplish so much. She is not scared being the youngest on team, and I like that those barriers don’t hold her down.”
She’s very appreciative that Travis Behn and Gabriel Zepeda have stuck around as the boys and girls head coaches at the school since it opened.
“It’s helpful to have the same coach for multiple seasons because you know what they’re expecting,” she said. “You don’t have to take time to get to know the coach, and you can take more time in developing yourself and improving your skills.”
Herrera has dabbled in coaching herself.
“I coached young boys when I was in the ninth and 10th grades, assistant coaching a U10 team, and it was really fun,” she said. “Being able to coach can really help you coach yourself because you can see the mistakes in the other players and you know what basically not to do. Even being a couple of years older than some of these kids, I definitely learned something from them. Every practice they would come with new tricks and new skills that I would learn.
“Coaching is so much fun, but coaching makes me want to play. As a coach you can only coach. I don’t know if I would be into that.”
This is the fourth straight season one of the Wolves has been named Napa County Player of the Year, but Behn said Herrera is as deserving of the honor as any of them.
“The girls wanted to win and so they did what I asked them to do, and Ana was part of that with all of the assists she had. That’s why Player of the Year is perfect for her,” he said. “She is very unselfish and was able to dish off the ball, and that was a big plus. That’s going to be big shoes to fill. She was not just the top scorer, but she also made the team better.
“She really wanted to win and she didn’t care how it happened, whether she was the one scoring and somebody else was scoring. That’s how the whole team was.”
Other Wolves honored
American Canyon senior Jaylynn Del Rosario is one of five finalists for Player of the Year.
Del Rosario, the Wolves’ second-leading scorer with 16 goals and three assists, said a headline about the team having to move on from the era of two-time Player of the Year Julia Cummings motivated the Wolves.
“We were like ‘it shouldn’t matter.’ We knew we had to take it a step higher, and that really pushed us to do the best that we could this season,” she said.
Head coach Travis Behn said Del Rosario had to really earn her goals.
“Jaylynn had it hard because she was by herself up top. When we played single-I, she had four or five defenders on her. She had to fight for every goal. There were no gimmes.”
Behn was named Coach of the Year after guiding the Wolves to their third straight top-three Solano County Athletic Conference finish and playoff berth.
“We didn’t score as much as we wanted to, but with a sophomore keeper and an all-new defense, we were still making adjustments,” Behn said. “We played a lot better this year than last year even though we scored less, because we faced tougher competition.”
With 47 of their 57 goals scored by seniors, the Wolves will look for new leaders next year when they join the new Vine Valley Athletic League.
One of the finalists for Defensive Player of the Year is American Canyon sophomore Korie Harvey.
A finalist for Newcomer of the Year is Wolves sophomore Saleena Bains.
American Canyon junior Jose Lopez is one of five finalists for Player of the Year.
The 6-foot-3 Lopez, after going 15 of 17 on extra points for the football team, led the soccer team with 16 goals – 14 of them in Solano County Athletic Conference action. He had a hat trick in each game against Vanden.
The five Offensive Player of the Year finalists include American Canyon senior Alex Gonzalez.
One of the Newcomer of the Year finalists is American Canyon junior Chris Hernandez.