Ten players return to the Napa High boys soccer team, looking to repeat as Monticello Empire League champions and win two more playoff games than they did last year.
Having their undefeated season spoiled by No. 1 seed Oak Ridge, 1-0, on a last-minute goal in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinals last year was tough for the Indians, who were seeded No. 4 despite having been ranked nationally.
But it drives the six seniors, two juniors and two sophomores who return, along with the three seniors, three juniors and sophomore who are new to the varsity.
“A lot of the returning players and even those who were on JV saw what happened last year and they want to keep the momentum going,” Napa head coach Rogelio Ochoa said. “We were so close to getting to that final, literally minutes away, that they want to push it forward. They want to be in that situation again and break through to the final, and finish what we didn’t finish last year.”
The three team captains – senior center back Leo Ayala, senior right back Gabriel Medrano and sophomore forward Julio Alonzo – are doing everything they can to not only keep the team playing together in games but on top of their classes so their team stays intact.
“We lost during semifinals and we wanted to win sections, so yeah, we’re hungry and we’re wanting to win and get the ring,” Ayala said. “We want to set an example that we’re getting better and coming back with the Napa High spirit that we used to have. I feel really honored to be a captain. It’s a really big responsibility, keeping everyone focused and ready to go against all the really good teams we’re facing in preseason, and keeping everyone in check with grades because everyone is a great asset to the team.”
Medrano, who recorded a 5.0 GPA last semester and hopes to be accepted to Stanford University, also enjoys being a captain.
“We’re willing to step up to the job for which we were chosen, making sure the other players are going to class and handling their academics, being the ones leading the team and talking on the field, and always keeping a positive attitude,” he said. “We’re the captains, but the team definitely sees each other as equals and we’re willing to take information and advice from each other.”
Alonzo leads the Indians (2-2) with three goals.
“As a captain, you have to be a role model for the underclassmen and be a leader on the field,” he said. “They listen to you, you listen to them, and you’ve got each other’s back. I feel like people are expecting more from us this year, because of what we did last year, so we have to step up and give it our all every game.”
Another key returner is senior goalkeeper Jonathan Perez, who was named the MEL Defensive Most Valuable Player last year.
Rounding out the squad are senior returners Ivan Cruz at forward, Kenrick Jaramillo in the midfield, and Daniel Gonzalez on defense; senior newcomers Jonathan Arciniega, Diego Mosqueda and Orlando Camacho at forward, junior returners Javier Acuna and Jonathan Tellez on defense, junior newcomers Daniel Rodriguez on defense, Julian Sosa at goalkeeper and Pedro Chavez at forward, sophomore returner Moises Garcia in the midfield, and sophomore newcomer Raymond Munoz in the midfield.
The Indians (2-2) are on a two-game skid after dropping their first-ever meetings with two Bay Area private schools last week – Saint Mary’s 1-0 and De La Salle 3-0. Ayala said after the Saint Mary’s loss that not being able to enjoy another undefeated regular season is not all bad.
“I think it’s definitely a good thing early in the season. It comes as almost a reality check, to show that we are going to have to work for what we want this year, the section title,” he said. “We’re going to have to have determination. It’s not going to be something that’s given.”
Napa also traveled to San Francisco to scrimmage two private schools, Sacred Heart Cathedral and St. Ignatius.
“It was a playoff environment, a playoff feel, and the boys fed off of it and played really well,” Ochoa said. “They were both scrimmages, but they were really good games. One of the positives of going to winter – now we have more options for rivalries. We can branch out to the Concord area. We don’t have to go to Sacramento. We can play teams closer to home that are just like teams we are going to play in sections, and prepare for sections without actually playing teams we’ll play in sections.
“The game against Saint Mary’s was a perfect game for the kids to understand that you have to stay awake and alert and play your style the whole game. I think we fell asleep for moments in the game and they capitalized. It was definitely a teachable moment; they have to learn that moving forward we can’t have those breakdowns against hard teams.”
Napa had a first-ever meeting with Pitman scheduled Saturday at home, but it was canceled. But the Indians have another unfamiliar foe, Modesto High, set to visit at 6:15 p.m. Monday at Memorial Stadium.
Then they have their only preseason road game at playoff rival Davis, before hosting University on Jan. 7 and Pioneer on Jan. 9 in their final pre-MEL warmups.
Grass fields have always been game-changers in the MEL, but probably even more so now that the games will be player in the winter months.
“I think the MEL will be more physical this year than last year only because we’re playing on fields that are going to be really hard to play on,” Ochoa said. “Vacaville High School’s field is going to be played on five days a week and because of (the resulting slick conditions) we can’t touch the ball, we cannot control the tempo. Armijo’s field is getting redone, so they’re playing on grass, and Wood is playing on a city field that’s grass. When we play here, the advantage will go to us because it’s a nice turf field and it’s so wide. It’s going to be difficult to adapt when we go over there. We don’t even train on grass.”
But the Indians are a close bunch, bonding during visits to companies and colleges with the help of assistant coach Rafael Ayala, a school counselor.
This fall, Napa went to UC Merced and watched 2014 Napa High soccer alum Cristian Basulto play for the school.
“It was really exciting for our boys to see him play, especially those who were part of the program when he was here,” Ochoa said. “He also took us on a tour of the university. Usually we get a tour from a random person, so it’s pretty powerful that a former teammate is giving you a tour. That’s what we want, to create a connection so they can take that next step.
“From last year’s team, three of our student athletes are now going to Sacramento State, Jorge Huerta, Ricardo Castillo and Edgar Gonzalez, and Jesus Magdaleno is at UC Davis. Both are schools we visited. Ricky Medina is playing goalkeeper for Concordia in Irvine, and Alex Martinez is at San Diego State.
“We love to play soccer and we like to win, however, at the end of the day we’re going to measure success in 10-15 years when they come back graduated from college and as professionals back in our community as teachers and doctors. That’ the bigger picture Rafa and I are looking at. We all dream of playing professionally at some point, but you still need a back-up plan.”