Winter sports are under way at Napa High School.
There is boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, and wrestling.
It’s Napa’s final year in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section and the Monticello Empire League. Next year, Napa will change sections, moving to the CIF North Coast Section and along with Vintage, Justin-Siena and American Canyon, will begin play in a new league, the Vine Valley Athletic League, starting with the 2018-19 school year. The league also has Sonoma Valley, Petaluma and Casa Grande.
A look at each of Napa’s winter sports teams:
The team looks good so far, said coach Darci Ward of her 1-2 squad.
“We had a tough (52-44) loss to Sonoma the other night, but we were down a few players and it is obviously still very early on,” said Ward. “The girls work extremely hard and I love the energy they bring every day.”
Malia Blackmon (guard), Jane McLoughlin (guard), Carly Johnson (guard), Anna Ghisletta (guard), Sophia Brandon (forward), Jenna Baker (forward), and Breck Hearn (forward) are potential starters, said Ward.
Blackmon, the team’s only senior, has been on varsity since her sophomore year, has blossomed as a player the last two years and has entirely changed her game, said Ward.
Ward expects Blackmon, a captain, to be one of the leading scorers in every game.
McLoughlin, a captain and a top defensive player, was on the varsity as a sophomore last year. She is a great athlete with great speed and is a lot more confident since last year, said Ward.
“I expect she will have a fantastic season,” said Ward.
“I am so pleased to have Malia and Jane as our leaders/captains this year. They sacrifice and care for our team so much.”
Johnson, who played on varsity last year as a freshman, sees the court very well, is strong on defense, and looks to score, said Ward.
Ghisletta, who played on varsity last year as a freshman, works extremely hard and brings a lot of energy on the court, said Ward.
Ghisletta “makes great things happen in terms of creating a spark for our team” and can score, said Ward.
“It is hard to say who all of our top players are as we are still sort of figuring out where we are going to go,” said Ward. “We are always looking for the same thing. We are hoping to get the most out of our players. We have a young group with only one senior, but we still hope to be a contender in the MEL. We hope to beat the teams we should, beat a few that we should not, and bring our best focus and energy to every game. This is our challenge right now. The players work really hard all the time and have great determination. We just need to put in the focus into every game and believe in ourselves.”
The Indians are just starting to get the concepts down for the type of defenses that Ward wants them to run.
“They like to trap and we are just working on our rotations out of that right now,” said Ward. “The team works together, gets along well with one another, and are not afraid to have tough conversations about what we need to do in order to keep improving. I love this team so far and they are really fun to coach.”
The other players are Sophia Brandon, Christina Bottini (guard), Caitlyn Neal (guard) and Lizbeth Barreda (guard).
Napa (4-4 overall) has played up and down so far this season, said coach Zack Cook.
“We’ve had some early injuries to a few guys, so we’re still trying to find our groove,” he said.
Zach Swim (guard), Mitch Hippauf (post), Stephen Blume (guard) and Joe Carnazola (post) are starters.
Charles Gravett (post) and Danny Ruiz (guard) have also started for the Indians.
Carnazola and Hippauf are Napa’s top returners.
Hippauf is a team captain who brings a defensive presence, low-post scoring, and vocal leadership, said Cook.
Carnazola is a versatile player who can play inside and on the perimeter, and leads by example, said Cook.
Blume is Napa’s best perimeter shooter and is great defensively on the perimeter, the coach said.
Swim is versatile in handling the ball, shooting, and guarding multiple positions, said the coach.
Sammy Morales, Tatsu Nakaima, Alex Kokotas, Danny Ruiz, Gravett, and Vince O’Kelley will all be looked upon to produce off the bench and possibly in starting roles, said Cook.
“We don’t really have a superstar, so any of our guys can lead us depending on the game and match-up,” said Cook.
“We’re looking to play unselfish basketball and enjoy the process as much as the product. And most importantly, have fun and enjoy ourselves.”
Cook said sharing the ball, rebounding, and putting the team first before individual goals are what Napa is the doing well as a team.
Napa is off to a 2-2-1 start, but has not settled on a starting line-up, said coach Milton Gallegos.
“With last year’s down year, we are keeping all options open and are trying a variety of different looks during the preseason,” said Gallegos.
“We are looking to completely shake off last year’s record and create a new impression of the team and end in the top three in the MEL to make playoffs and end our last MEL and Sac-Joaquin season in top form. We have in no way played our best game and our goal is to grow with each game and hopefully peak at season’s end. There is a ton of potential in our line-up. We just need to adjust to playing in our new look.”
Berenice Lara-Gonzalez, Hannah Williams, Alexia Kountouris, Eva Gomez-Espana, Noelle Core, Liliana Delgado, Marina Lopez and Rory O’Toole are the team’s top returners.
Gallegos is expecting a lot from Lara-Gonzalez, Williams, Grace Vlandis and Kountouris.
Lara-Gonzalez, a co-captain who starts in the midfield, “is our playmaker and most of our offense goes through her. Her midfield defensive pressure and presence is huge to our success,” said Gallegos.
Williams, a co-captain, is the team’s offensive creator, said Gallegos.
“She is constantly a threat to our attack, and her midfield and forward flexibility allows us to put her in a variety of attacking roles,” said Gallegos.
Vlandis plays goalkeeper.
“Her goalkeeping skills are outstanding, and understanding of the game is tops,” said Gallegos. “She is allowing our new defense to gel by keeping tough shots out of the goal.”
Kountouris has scored five goals.
“We are relying heavily on her to score this year,” said Gallegos.
Gallegos likes the way that Napa is playing – as a team.
“There wasn’t as strong of a team unity last year, and so far it seems like our players are not only communicating better, but giving each other advice and picking each other up during and away from games,” the coach said.
Napa, off to a 4-2 start, has performed extremely well, coach Rogelio Ochoa said. One of those wins came over De La Salle-Concord, 2-0.
“They understand the system of play that is in place,” said Ochoa. “They are collectively playing well, and the team chemistry is evident, on and off the field.”
Julian Sosa (goalkeeper), Raymond Munoz (right back), Cruz Palafox (center back), Jonathan Tellez (center back), Javier Acuna (left back), Moises Garcia (defensive midfielder), Mateo Villanueva (offensive midfielder), Julio Alonzo (offensive midfielder), Juan Leon (winger), Eduardo Blancas (winger), and Irving Flores (striker) are the Indians’ starters.
Nine out of the 11 starters played varsity last year and have playoff experience.
“With that said, they understand the bigger picture, and now every game and every half will have its unique and different challenges,” said Ochoa.
Alonzo and Acuna are the top returners.
“Having leaders such as Alonzo and Acuna definitely helps the team identify moments within the game,” said Ochoa. “The team needs to adapt to the game and opponent.”
Napa has been getting good play from Sosa, Acuna, Palafox and Blancas.
“All three midfielders are great at possessing the ball and controlling the tempo of the game,” said Ochoa. “The top line is creative, explosive and dangerous as they create many opportunities for one another. The players coming off the bench also play an important role as we are lucky to have a deep team that has players ready to perform when needed.”
“We are looking to stay healthy, play an attractive style of soccer that can give the team results. I want this season to be memorable for the boys and the Napa community, so we will do our best to do exactly that.”
Coach Nacho Franco said Napa is a young team, but is progressing in the right direction “on getting better daily.”
Franco said the starting line-up has not been determined yet.
Wyatt Bruner (160 pounds) and Chase LaRue (182 pounds) are the top returners and are also team captains.
The goal, said Franco, is always the same: “grind, grind and peak in the postseason by staying healthy with smart, hard work.”