With so much high school boys soccer talent in the Napa Valley, it’s hard to repeat as All-Napa County Player of the Year.
It hasn’t happened in 10 years.
But Oscar Loyola impressed the Napa Valley Register the most once again.
After leading Vintage High School to the Monticello Empire League title and the second round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs in 2017-18 with 21 goals, the senior forward and his Crushers did even better – despite numerous changes.
For one, head coach Bernie Ochoa stepped down and left the program in the hands of assistant coaches Javier Covarrubias and Alex Felicano. The Crushers also moved into the North Coast Section and new Vine Valley Athletic League, playing mostly teams to the east instead of to the west.
Loyola still amassed 22 goals and three assists, leading the Crushers to the VVAL title with an unbeaten 11-0-1 record. Fifth-seeded Vintage also did one better in the playoffs, reaching the NCS Division 1 semifinals before falling 1-0 at No. 1 seed De La Salle to cap a 20-2-2 season.
Loyola, after scoring in each Big Game against crosstown rival and league runner-up Napa High and being named VVAL Player of the Year, also scored in an impressive 5-1 road upset of No. 4 seed San Ramon Valley in the NCS quarterfinals.
“As a team captain, he was a vocal leader on the field and in the locker room,” Covarrubias said. “When the stage was biggest, Oscar always stepped up to the challenge. Strong, physical, technical and quick, other teams always man-marked or double-teamed him, forcing him to work hard, involve his teammates, and find various ways to impact the game.”
Loyola – who also had 57 goals over two JV seasons – dedicated every goal to his mother and loudest fan, Blanca, who passed away when he was in the eighth grade. He said his father, Oscar Sr., and sister Cynthia, a 2015 Vintage graduate who also played soccer for the Crushers and now attends UC Berkeley, have helped him stay focused.
“I would like to thank my dad for always being my No. 1 fan and for doing pretty much anything he can to help me succeed, whether it’s cooking healthy foods, giving me rides to faraway games, sometimes washing my clothes at around midnight after I get home late and need them in the morning for a game, then waking up that morning and cheering me on at the game, and for doing his best to try and fix the missing piece,” he said. “And I always know I can ask my sister anything about college or life and she’s right there to help.
“Lastly, I would like to thank my mom for raising me with love and teaching me that nothing that’s worth having comes easy and to work hard in silence. I have been blessed with a beautiful family.”
Loyola also surrounds himself with friends who are as competitive and driven as himself.
Napa High senior defender Enrique Lopez has been one of Loyola’s best friends since they were on the same club team before their freshman years – both as center backs on defense.
“When high school started and we were on different teams again, I started marking him more,” Lopez said. “It was definitely a challenge because he was fast and strong and had a good touch. But it was always fun because during games we cracked jokes and stuff. A couple of days before a Big Game this year, we hung out and I was trying to trash talk to him, trying to get in his head and stuff. But it was all joking and once the game began, we both went 100 percent and didn’t really think of each other as friends on the field.
“He’s always taken soccer seriously, but when he got moved up to varsity he stepped up his game a lot. During the week, if we didn’t have practice, he’d call me and say ‘Hey, let’s practice and work on this and work on that,’ and since I was a defender and he’s a striker, we’d always go one-on-one and make each other better, make each other grow. Sometimes I’d have those days when I wouldn’t want to, and he’d say ‘C’mon, we need to get better, we need to practice,’ and he’d always motivate me. I just want to tell him to keep working hard and keeping pushing because life has great opportunities coming his way and he should take advantage of them.”
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Loyola said he had to use his defensive instincts to deal with Lopez in one Big Game.
“He got past me with the ball, so I took him down and got a tactical foul,” Loyola smiled.
He said the friend he got to share Vintage’s success with most was senior teammate Cole Geschwender, who as a sophomore and junior teamed with Connor Castelazo on back-to-back MEL doubles titles.
“We would meet up and go to the gym and do yoga sessions – I tried that for the first time – and sometimes go swimming, but I never challenged him at tennis,” Loyola laughed. “We played basketball together, a bunch of stuff. We would leave our cars in the back parking lot so after practice we could walk to them and debrief the practice and talk about the next game. He’s a really down-to-earth and positive person to be around.
“The look of emotion on his face, whether he scored or somebody else scored, was super energetic and that rubbed off on the team a lot. He scored the first one against San Ramon Valley and seeing him going crazy woke me up because I was feeling kinda nervous.”
Loyola, who carries a 4.0 GPA, would like to play for a four-year college in the fall but hasn’t found the right one yet. If he ends up attending Napa Valley College instead, he said it would be fun to reunite with his Napa High rivals and help the Storm win a third straight Bay Valley Conference title under former Napa High coach Rogelio Ochoa.
Loyola said one of his personal missions was to surpass last year’s 21 goals, which was just as difficult as he had expected it would be.
“I felt like every goal this year was two times harder to score than last year,” he said. “A lot of teams had a man on me all the time. But I was lucky to have a really good team and coaches and we always worked around that, and they always gave me the best possibilities to score.
“It just took some adapting and our coaches would always move stuff around, like sometimes I’d even drop down to the 10 (center midfielder) and create some good opportunities. They would move me from wing to wing from the 9 (forward) so teams wouldn’t really know where I would be. I think I played defender for a little part of one game, because of injuries. I love playing as many positions as I can; it helps me understand the game better, and it if helps our team, I’m always happy to do it.”
Asked if he ever gets burned out on soccer, Loyola had a quick response.
“No, of course not,” he said. “I feel like soccer’s in my blood. There’s never a dull moment on the field. It’s the reason I wake up every morning. That’s the part that motivates me because at the end of the day, I love the sport. I don’t see it as ‘Oh, I have to go train.’ I see it as, ‘I get to go work out and make myself better by training hard every day.’”
Loyola has been training with Rogelio Ochoa’s Napa Valley 1839 FC men’s team as well as the Napa Soccer Academy, under coach Gabe Rood.
“I’ve played for him since seventh grade,” he said of Rood. “He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. He’s taught me basically everything I know tactically. When I first started, he told me I was not smart on the ball and that I had to work on my decision making. He really taught me how soccer works in the U.S. – the MLS and college and everything in between.
“He would have camps and I would to go those every week. I made the elite group once and we had an extra training. At the very first practice I was missing shots, and he told me one thing that’s always stuck with me – that the best forwards have short-term memory, so regardless whether you start off a game or practice scoring goals or not, you have to keep looking forward to the next one.”
He’s had a lot of coaches, and said he’s learned from each one.
“When I was young I would go from club to club,” Loyola said. “One summer I wasn’t assigned to any club, so I just trained with three different teams. I really wanted to stay with the same team, but my dad didn’t want me to. He said ‘take a little piece from every coach, even if it’s not as high quality a coach.’”
Asked if his success has ever gone to his head, he said “No, because a lot of good adults who are wiser than me are always guiding me along the way and bringing me down to earth. I feel like you’re never good enough. The day you feel you’re good enough, you’ll just stop improving and plateau right there.”