UKIAH — With power outages about to darken the North Bay that night, the Napa Valley College women’s soccer season couldn’t have been brighter Tuesday afternoon.
Winds swept through the Highway 101 corridor in Mendocino County as the Storm held off a strong start from Mendocino for its first win of the season, a 2-0 Bay Valley Conference victory.
“I feel like every time we play a harder team, it gets into our heads. Rather than playing the game, we get focused more on the other team or their stats and I think sometimes we just have to go in and play our game,” said Daniela Gonzalez, a Vallejo High graduate who put NVC on the board. “Today it worked out for us, the first win of the season, so we’re happy.”
Mendocino came out early with a burst of energy, controlling the first five minutes of the game. But the Storm quickly adjusted and started to figure out the Eagles.
Napa Valley (1-5-1, 1-3 BVC) had great success attacking the right side of the Mendocino defense and found its first real chance in the eighth minute, earning a free kick by drawing a foul just inches outside of the penalty box. The Eagles (1-6, 1-3 BVC) set up their wall and Gonzalez raced from the defensive back line to take the kick from the left side. The sophomore center back decided to channel her inner David Beckham, using the wind to power a curving shot into the top right corner for a 1-0 lead.
“I just saw that open space and I was trying to put it on the floor. Then, I don’t know, in the last second, I was like, ‘You know what, let me just give it a little extra kick,’ and it worked in my favor. I was pretty happy. It was my first goal of the season.”
Napa Valley gained full control of the middle of the field after that, as the Eagles were without a key midfielder for most of the first half with a stinger injury. Vintage High alumnus Julia Kiser and Mare Island Technology Academy graduate Amber Palas led the peppering of the Eagles’ goalkeeper as Napa Valley had 12 shots in the first half, eight finding their mark on frame. Mendocino, on the other hand, went cold, unable to break through the Storm’s strong defensive line.
The second half seemed to copy the first half, but in reverse. The Eagles had another five minutes of solid play, but it came in the final moments of the game. The Storm continued to crash the Mendocino back line, with Kiser sending multiple scoring opportunities into the box.
Napa Valley finally widened its lead 15 minutes into the second half. After a Mendocino miss, Palas scored on a breakaway opportunity with a shot into the left side of the net, just beyond the outstretched hands of the goalkeeper.
Head coach Randi Simmons was pleased with the Storm’s effort.
“I feel really good about today,” she said. “I feel like since conference started, we have been finding our stride and playing with our shape, different formations and different lineups. I think that we finally kind of found our flow and our rhythm as a group.
“Our midfield was able to exploit all their space. They’re playing 3-5-2 (three backs, five midfielders and two forwards) and we were playing a 4-5-1 and our five midfielders were a lot more organized and skillful. I always tell the girls, ‘Just play soccer, analyze what’s going on, where’s our space?’ We were just able to really find the space and kind of exploit them tactically.”
Vintage product Cailin LeTourneau was another key piece for the Storm with Gonzalez in the defensive backfield. The hosts managed only five total shots against NVC netminder Jessica Orozco, as the Benicia High product needed to stop only two attempts.
“We had a couple girls really step up,” Simmons said. “Amber, who is a true freshman, came in and really made a difference up top for us. Cailin and Dani both locked it down in the back as our center backs.”
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Evelyn Avila was struck in the face by a powerful Mendocino cross, but the sophomore out of Vintage seemed in solid spirits after the game.
Napa Valley had 14 shots on goal out of 26 total shots.
“I think the thing that helped us was that this was the first game that we made the goal first,” said Gonzalez. “I think it really motivated us to have the first goal and to have it so soon. It got us going and I think after that we kind of like settled in, like we got it.”
Vintage alumnus Alondra Cendejas agreed.
“Honestly, after Daniela made that goal, we felt really confident,” said the sophomore midfielder. “I mean, we felt confidence before starting the game, but just that goal made us boosted up even more. Even in the second half, after Amber scored that goal, that gave us a lot more confidence and that gave Amber herself a lot more confidence for this season.”
With its late momentum, Mendocino appeared to find the back of the net during stoppage time. A shot from the left side was blocked and the deflection was sent to the feet of an Eagles striker, but the sideline referee quickly raised his flag to signal offsides as the ball struck the back of the net.
Seconds later, the final whistle blew and the Storm headed off the field and had a short talk before jogging to cool down.
No need for wild celebrations. Just another step in the right direction for the Storm.
“It feels amazing getting a win this season,” added Cendejas. “I hope we can get more and I believe we could get more this season, for sure. I do feel positive about our team. We are making more goals, pushing through and putting a lot of effort like we did today.”
The Storm nearly won its conference opener at College of Marin on Sept. 27, falling 3-2 despite goals from Napa High product Marina Lopez and LeTourneau. Lopez also scored in a 1-1 nonconference tie at College of the Siskiyous in Weed on Sept. 13.
Also on the Napa Valley roster are Vintage alumni Adriana Caldera (sophomore forward), Alexis Lopez (freshman forward) and Clare Tilinghast (freshman defender), Napa High products Ana Gonzalez (sophomore defender) and Nancy Torres (freshman forward), Benicia grad Abby Silva (sophomore forward), Fairfield High product Noemi Villasenor (sophomore defender) and Vallejo High grad Isabel Gonzalez (freshman midfielder).
“So far there have been ups and downs, like every season,” said Simmons, who is assisted by Kristine Mason. “After the first two stretches of the season, you’re like, ‘OK, we’ve learned what we can now and we’ve got to just ride our strengths to the end of the season. We’ve finally been able to kind of identify what lineup works, where our strength is in the system, and who are the horses are, the players we can feed the ball to and find those different pockets of where they like the ball.
“So I’m feeling really confident right now after two really strong conference performances,” the coach said of last Friday’s 2-0 home loss to Solano. “We played a really good Solano team in our last game and had a pretty good result against them. The ball didn’t always bounce our way, but we felt good coming out of that game. So to turn that into a win here today is really good sign for us. Hopefully we can keep this momentum rolling and just keep riding our strengths.”