When someone is able to succeed at something they haven’t tried in a long time, they might say it’s like riding a bike.
For three of the four Upvalley high school soccer teams, even though they hadn’t played in two years, it’s been like driving a golf cart.
The St. Helena boys are 13-1 overall and 9-1 in North Central League I play, Their only loss has been to Cloverdale, 2-1 at home back on Sept. 9. They will get a chance to pull into a first-place tie with the Eagles (11-1-1, 10-0 NCL I) in a 5:30 p.m. game at Cloverdale on Tuesday.
St. Helena stayed in league-title contention Thursday with a 5-0 home win over Kelseyville. The Saints got a hat trick from Julian Martinez, who scored twice in the first half and along with Juan Garcia gave the hosts a 3-0 halftime lead. Gino Hanna and Martinez scored midway through the second half.
Saints captain Brandon Diaz said the Saints played pretty well for being without starters Aaron Cruz and Andres Velazquez.
“We were confident throughout the game,” he said. “We controlled the tempo of the game we created a lot of chances and defensively we played good. I like playing to my right back, Juan (Garcia). He opens up the field really nicely and he can take it down the wing when you need him to, even though he’s a defender.”
Cruz said he and his team are ready for Tuesday’s rematch at Cloverdale.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I think we’re looking great and we’re going to come out on top.”
St. Helena head coach Ozzie Gallegos was also happy with way his team blanked Kelseyville.
“I was very pleased with our team’s performance considering we have two big pieces missing with Aaron and Andres not in the lineup. We’re missing our main midfielder and main attacker, who was on a record-pace season,” he said. “When you lose two guys like that, you have to step up, and I think we did.
“We’ve got to have this mentality of moving the ball and not letting a team like Kelseyville settle in. Just the fact that we were moving the ball and trying to create opportunities and playing on their side of the field and having possession, if you check all those things off, you’re going to come up with a win regardless how many shots on goal you take and whether they go in or not. Eventually, they do go in when you give yourself that kind of opportunity.
“Now we have an opportunity to erase our only loss. Hopefully we can pull it off.”
The Saints geared up for the big contest by hosting Sonoma Academy in a nonleague game Friday and handing the Coyotes (6-1-2) their first loss of the season, 2-1.
The Calistoga boys would love to have been able to watch that 5 p.m. game, since Sonoma Academy is in their North Central League II and handed the Wildcats (5-3, 4-2 NCL II) one of their two league losses, 4-1, in Santa Rosa on Sept. 25. The other league loss was 4-0 against Anderson Valley in Boonville on Oct. 1.
But the Wildcats were just finishing up their 5-3 home win over Santa Rosa’s Roseland Collegiate Prep that day when the Saints started their game.
Calistoga’s boys team is unusual in that five of its players also play football for the Wildcats. In fact, that was the one day when they had to play both sports the same day. Two hours after their soccer game, they kicked off their homecoming game against Roseland University Prep.
Isaac Garcia, who scored a goal in the soccer game, returned the opening kickoff 65 yards for a touchdown and later added a 22-yard touchdown catch.
“It’s exciting,” Garcia said when asked why he plays two sports simultaneously, especially as a senior playing on homecoming in both sports. I did it my freshman and sophomore years, too. I believe both sports do damage to the body, but I believe soccer is more running and more conditioning. It tires you out more than football, where you have a little bit more breaks.”
He said that between games he would “go home, take a shower, eat something good, and we’ll be ready.”
Christian Caldera, whose two goals in the soccer game tied it at 2-2 to spark the comeback win, also starred on the gridiron by breaking off 73- and 22-yard scoring scampers and running in a two-point conversion.
Oh, and he was named Homecoming King at halftime. The other soccer-football players are senior Neftali Gutierrez, junior Christian Ramirez and sophomore Javier Rodriguez.
The Wildcats have already marked their calendars for the big rematches at home, Oct. 20 against Sonoma Academy and Oct. 27 against Anderson Valley. Before that, they have a league contest against Credo in Rohnert Park on Wednesday and a nonleague home tilt Oct. 18 against Head-Royce at Logvy Park.
“They looked good. They came back to win on their homecoming,” Calistoga boys head coach Hector Contreras said. “They could have looked better, but they turned it around. I guess our savior today was Diego Flores, our freshman, who scored the winning goal for us.”
Flores made it 4-3 with just 4:50 left in the match, before Willem Ulloa added the insurance goal with three minutes left.
“Right now we’re trying to get the first (playoff) seed, but the way it’s shaping up is Sonoma is probably going to win league this year. But we’re hoping they lose (to Anderson Valley on Oct. 13 or Oct. 25) and if they lose and we beat them, we take first place.”
Back at St. Helena, the girls soccer team will take 8-3-1 overall and 6-2-1 NCL I records into Tuesday’s match at Cloverdale, which the Saints dispatched 5-1 last month at home. They sort of avenged one of their league losses by tying Middletown 2-2 on Tuesday, having lost 3-2 to the Mustangs earlier. St. Helena still has a chance to avenge last month’s 4-1 loss to Roseland University Prep when they visit the Knights on Oct. 19.
In their 7-0 rout of Kelseyville on Thursday, three Saints scored twice. Aubrey Moura and Eva Bowen connected early and late in the first half, with Mabel Wilms also scoring for a 5-0 halftime advantage. Wilms added another goal in the second half, before Kaylee Moura closed the scoring with 11 minutes left.
“We had a game plan to control the pace of the game, and that’s what we did,” said Saints head coach Milton Gallegos. “It wasn’t always pretty, but when you play a team that’s a little bit weaker, sometimes you struggle on some stuff. But we dominated the game.”
He said co-captains Kiara Munoz-Gonzalez and Kaylee Moura “controlled the back line with their experience” and that Wilms and Aubrey Moura took control of the midfield and Mia Hernandez shined “on top, getting those through balls and getting those shots on goal.”
Meanwhile, he said Andrea Rodriguez-Mendoza “became a starter only a couple of weeks ago and has really changed our wing attack on the sides.”
Assistant coach Michael Hanna was pleased with the Saints’ execution against Kelseyville.
“We had some really strong moments of brilliance out there with the give-and-gos, and we’ve been working on some overlaps and some of the set plays really went nicely; they went the way we practiced them,” Hanna said. “I was pleased that we got a chance to get everybody some playing time today. It’s great for the younger players to see the intensity and pace of a varsity soccer match.
Kaylee Moura said the sudden passing in April 2020 of then-senior Emma Fife, the 2019 team’s star player and a 2019-20 Napa County Girls Soccer Player of the Year Finalist, is still fresh on the older players’ minds.
“It was hard,” the senior said. “I met some of my best friends on the team after the death of Emma Fife, but it was hard to bring the team back together and get us on the field. It’s been hard to play without her, but I’m glad I can follow in her footsteps.
“I think our team has been developing a lot of great skills throughout this season so far. I’m excited to see where this season leads. I like the development. From the beginning, with so many new players, it was hard to develop and move the ball up the field gracefully, but I think we’ve found our rhythm. I think we can make it far in playoffs if we really set our hearts to it.”
Coming back from an entire 2020-21 school year with no sports at all seems to have been hardest for the Calistoga girls soccer team.
On Friday, the Wildcats had 11 available players but agreed to play a 9-versus-9 match against Roseland Collegiate Prep.
“The Calistoga girls in the field just started playing soccer this year and had several players that had little or no game experience,” Wildcats head coach Charley Hester said.
He said senior center defender Maria Lopez captains the team, while sophomore Evelyn Garcia manned the goal, junior center halfback Ashley Clavel ran the middle of the field, and junior Claudia Rios and freshman Kennia Clavell played up front and had a few chances to score.
He said Jeanette Arroyo, Evelyn Perez and Avril Montanez played in various positions during the match, with first-time players Kyla Rodriguez and Haley Tapia contributing. He added that Kayla Rodriguez was also a standout for being on the field for the first time.
Someday soon, perhaps soccer will be like riding a bike for the Wildcat girls, too.
“Calistoga coaches are working with the girls today to learn the game, but are building toward the future,” Hester said. “We have a lot of young girls on the team and are looking forward to the next couple of years.”
Dave Mosher contributed to this story.
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