The Napa Valley College men’s soccer team is a motley crew of players – from as far away as Antioch, as old as 25, and with as little as a year of varsity high school experience.
One might think the latter category would be a player who needs another year to get accustomed to the speed of the community college game. But it’s actually the Storm’s leading point earner and scorer, Billy Biondini, who had 23 points, 10 goals and three assists going into Tuesday’s BVC finale at Yuba. The 2019 American Canyon High graduate played varsity tennis, football and basketball for the Wolves before trying soccer, a sport he’d previously played only for clubs, as a senior.
“He’s just an athlete,” said third-year NVC head coach Rogelio Ochoa, who is assisted by former Justin-Siena standout Ivan Colin. “He has power and athleticism and speed. He showed up in the summer with long, baggy basketball shorts and a baseball shirt. I saw that he was 6-1 and had strength and speed, which were definitely things we could use – and then he started scoring goals.
“Sometimes you can’t read Billy. He does things others don’t, maybe because he didn’t play as much as the other guys. It’s not traditional and it ends up working to his advantage. Defenders don’t know what he’s going to do and his speed is deceiving. As soon as you think you got him, he has a little more to his speed. One of the hardest things to do in soccer is create opportunities and he definitely creates them, and he finishes. He had a hat trick against Yuba. He has one speed, which is 100 mph. He just goes as hard as he can and when he feels he needs a break, he’ll let you know, which is great.”
Napa Valley’s second-leading offensive player is, ironically, a defensive midfielder who scores only on set plays such as free kicks and corner kicks – Jesus Ochoa, a 2015 Vintage High product with 13 points, on 6 goals and 3 assists. He was the 2014-15 Napa Valley Register Player of the Year after leading the Crushers to the 2014 Sac-Joaquin Section Division II title.
“Chuy has always been able to score from a distance, and he’s been our player that controls the momentum, the speed of the game, controls the match,” Rogelio Ochoa said. “He’s a quiet leader who leads with his game. It’s been unfortunate that he’s had two knee injuries (in college). But he’s ready to transfer at the end of this year and hopefully we can get him to play somewhere.”
Also with offensive stats are the oldest NVC player, 25-year-old St. Helena High grad Victor Fernandez (2 goals, 1 assist), Vintage alumni Alex Cendejas (1 goal, 3 assists), Marco Manzo (1 assist) and Jesus Gonzalez (1 assist), Vallejo High alumnus Javier Rodriguez (2 assists), Deer Valley product Juan Carlos “JC” Ayala (1 goal), and Armijo grads Luis “Freddie” Moreno (2 goals), Gregorio Soria (1 goal) and Nicholas Erwin (1 assist).
Manning the goal are freshmen Carlos Ayala of Vintage and Bryan Reynoso-Gutierrez of Vallejo High. Along with a talented back line, they allowed only eight goals in 10 conference games.
Rounding out the team are sophomores Juan Aguilar (Napa High), Yamikani McHombo (American Canyon), Javier Rodriguez (Vallejo) and freshmen Julio Alonzo (Napa High), Cruz Palafox (Napa High), Adrian Sierra (American Canyon) and Enrique Torrez (American Canyon) and Jason Reyes (Vallejo).
“This team has more experience that our teams in the past,” Coach Ochoa said. “We have a lot of true sophomores, so we’ve been able to keep more second-years playing, and staying eligible academically, so they already played last year and they have that under their belt. We have five true sophomores and five others who went here two or more years ago, and then freshmen who have experience, like Carlos Ayala (a two-time Napa County Goalkeeper of the Year) and Julio Alonzo (Monticello Empire League Player of the Year in 2017-18).
“That’s one reason I think we (clinched) the conference title with two games left. We’ve been able to finish games off, whereas in the past, maybe due to a lack of experience, we’d get tight in the last minute. This year we’ve been able to finish the job and get the result.”
Rogelio Ochoa said Moreno played for the Storm in 2014, spent the next four years in the Marines, and came back for this sophomore season.
“He’s got speed, and that quick little hesitation that can create distance so he can take a shot,” the coach said.
On being a three-peating coach, Ochoa said he would never have expected it three years ago.
“When I first got here, I couldn’t see past my first year. It was so new. All I knew was they hadn’t win it in the years just prior and our some of those players told me they had a chip on their shoulder. I keep learning as a coach. The goal is to keep improving. We want to win conference every year, but we also want to have an impact at the state playoff level. From my understanding, NVC has never won a playoff game in men’s soccer. That’s our next step. It’s not easy. We’ve got some powerhouses out there, schools that are maybe two, three times bigger than us. But we do have talent and I think we’re improving.”
The Storm finished 9-7-2 overall and 8-1-1 BVC with Tuesday’s 2-0 win at Yuba in Marysville. They will open the playoffs Nov. 23.
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To help his team feel less intimidated playing larger schools, Coach Ochoa had his team play five of the top six programs in Northern California during the preseason, and the Storm was competitive with most of them.
“Now they know exactly what every team brings,” he said. “The guys are hungry and they know we can do it. We just have to stay hungry.
“We have a target on our back, being the champion the last two years, so teams brought their ‘A’ games and we had to be ready for that.”
The goal in the playoffs is to buckle down on defense.
“The longer we can go not conceding a goal the more uncomfortable we’re going to make the opponent,” Coach Ochoa said. “The more nervous we can make them by taking a 1-0 lead so it feels out of the ordinary, we can manage the game more and maybe create counter attack opportunities. Plus, you get fewer opportunities in the playoffs, so we need to finish.”
Winning a playoff game wouldn’t be just a feather in the program’s cap, but would open the eyes of the half-dozen scouts that typically attend playoff games. If the sophomores don’t get noticed in the playoffs, they can go to the Sophomore Showcase on Dec. 7 at De Anza College in Cupertino.
Alonzo is a little shorter than most center backs, “but his timing on headers is on point,” Coach Ochoa said. “He can get to them no matter how high they are. Julio was a freshman when Napa High won league and went to the section semifinals.”
Rogelio Ochoa, who teaches Spanish at Napa High, said he enjoys coaching players who are so passionate about the game.
“You don’t question their commitment, you don’t question their talent. That’s not negotiable. They love what they do, they love the game, and now at this level they’re here because they want to be here,” the coach said. “They don’t have their parents telling them what they have to do. They’re out here because it’s a passion and they love it. It’s not easy. Most of them also work part-time, with a full academic schedule, and when we travel to games it’s not easy. It takes a lot of time management and being responsible.”
Ayala said he started playing for NVC last year after he and his mother moved to Vallejo. He said he was also lured to NVC because Rogelio Ochoa, who also coaches the Napa Valley 1839 FC team, let him practice with the National Premier Soccer League squad.
“Napa brings in a lot of great players and I felt like this was the right place for me to go,” Ayala said. ”My freshman year I played varsity, and then my sophomore and junior years I couldn’t play (high school soccer) because I was playing with the San Jose Earthquakes Academy U-17s, and then I ended up leaving there and went back to my club team based in Concord, Diablo FC. We had a great team there, but I ended up breaking my fifth metatarsal twice within a year, so I was out and I took a break and came here. It’s been awesome. I feel like Coach listens to our opinions.”
Jesus Ochoa said he’s hoping to play for a four-year NAIA school because it will allow him to use all four years of athletic eligibility.
“I just need to get some film and send it out and hopefully it works out,” he said. “I want to be a winemaker and a lot of schools don’t offer a viticulture degree. So I might have to decide between that and soccer.”
Jesus Ochoa said it’s been fun to play with former teammates such as Manzo, and rivals like Alonzo.
“I met some of them when they were like 9 so it’s great to play in college with them,” he said. “We’ve got some game-changers here.
“Billy is awesome. I literally kick any ball, it doesn’t matter if it’s a good or bad pass, he’s going to get there. I don’t think I’ve ever played with a player that creates as many chances as Billy. He kinda plays like a football player.”