The Vintage High boys soccer team opened Monticello Empire League play looking like it was destined to be a middle-of-the-pack team this season.
After settling for a 1-1 tie at Armijo, the Crushers had their 11-game league unbeaten streak snapped with a 2-1 loss to Vacaville – not on the Bulldogs’ small grass field, where the Crushers have always had trouble winning, but at Memorial Stadium.
After breaking into the win column with a 5-0 win over struggling Wood, the eventual last-place squad, Vintage still had plenty to prove.
The Crushers did that with an impressive 4-0 win over crosstown rival Napa High. They haven’t stopped winning since, earning their second straight MEL title and the No. 4 seed in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs.
“We entered the (MEL) season looking really bad, so in order to win MEL we had to go on a winning streak,” Vintage senior Alex Cendejas said before Thursday’s practice. “Our biggest opponent is always Napa High, so we walked into the game as an underdog and we played with passion and destroyed them.”
Vintage (18-3-2), coached by Bernie Ochoa, Alex Feliciano and Javier Covarrubias, will take an eight-game win streak into Tuesday’s home playoff opener against No. 13 Franklin-Elk Grove (10-8-4), the fourth-place team out of the Delta Valley Conference.
“I feel like last year when we played against Franklin, it was a pretty good game,” said senior co-captain Gustavo Maldonado. “With this team, we’re pretty well-rounded and deep and I think we can step up to the plate and take care of business against those D-I schools because I think we’re just as good as them if not better.”
Oscar Loyola, who leads the Crushers with 19 goals and has three assists, led the way in the first Big Game with Vintage’s first hat trick against Napa High in 15 years.
The junior said he’s not related to Bertin Loyola, the previous Crusher who had the hat trick against the Indians in 2002.
“But he was actually my (club) coach a few years ago,” he said of the Bertin Loyola, who also coached the Pacific Union College men in from 2011-13.
Loyola really showed his finishing ability last Monday in a 7-1 win over Wood, scoring Vintage’s first five goals with assists from five different teammates.
“I just really wanted to help out the team and my teammates helped me out a lot, giving me a lot of opportunities,” said the junior, who is in his first varsity season. “Finishing is one of my strengths, what I have to offer. We showed that we have a lot of potential as a team, not only defensively but also offensively. I felt like a lot of people thought we wouldn’t be able to finish in a lot of games. It took us a while but now we’re actually clicking and starting to kill off teams really early.”
Loyola isn’t too worried about Vintage’s chances in the playoffs if opponents try to shut him down.
“We have a lot of strikers than can finish, and our midfielders create a lot of chances for us,” he said. “They can stop one of us, but throughout the game we’re just too much to handle.”
Opponents will also have to deal with senior Marco Manzo, a fourth-year varsity starter who was a Co-MEL Offensive Player of the Year and the Napa County Player of the Year last season, and has nine goals and four assists this season.
Adding six goals and a team-high 10 assists is junior Erick Cid, while Cendejas had six goals and two assists and senior Miguel Plancarte has five goals and two assists.
The Crushers outscored their competition 65-25 during the regular season. They also showed they could play defense against perennial powers, tying Davis 1-1 at a tournament and beating Monte Vista 1-0 in Danville. Those teams are both seeded No. 6 in the SJS and North Coast Section Division I playoffs. An hour after the Davis tie, Vintage lost 2-0 to McClatchy, now seeded No. 3 in SJS Division I.
Cendejas said Vintage wanted to be in the Division I bracket, despite winning their most recent section title in Division II in 2015, to get the best challenge.
“That’s what it’s about,” he said. “We tied Davis but scored in the last minute. We had them all game. Now we want to take it all the way.”
Plancarte must give opponents a scare with his wide, 6-foot-3 frame and quickness.
“It helps me get the balls in the air,” he said of his height. “I played football (as a sophomore) for the last five games as an offensive and defense lineman, but I didn’t really like it. I tried out this year and was on the punt team but didn’t end up playing.”
Before he graduates from high school and joins a carpenter’s union, Plancarte hopes to nail down a section championship in his second Vintage soccer season.
“We need to make sure we finish every chance we get,” he said. “There are chances we don’t finish that are clear, and we make the hard ones.”
Manzo and Maldonado, a Second Team All-MEL center back last year, captain the team with Miguel Gallegos, a First Team All-MEL defender last year who was an All-County Defensive Player of the Year finalist.
“As captains, we try do our best to keep the team in line with their class work and just being on time to practice, just discipline mainly,” said Maldonado, who hopes to play in college while majoring in business and marketing. “We organize on the field as much as we can, but every player knows their role on the team and they get the job done.”
Gallegos, like Plancarte, isn’t interested in college just yet. He wants to be a personal trainer and own a gym.
For now, he hopes he, Maldonado and fellow defenders such as juniors Diego Cortez and Edgar Correa and freshman Angel Tapia can hold teams like they did Napa High this year.
“The slow start in league helped us be more aggressive in the field and try to score goals and win every single game and stay on a winning streak,” he said. “We’ve just got to stay focused.”
JV finishes undefeated
The Crushers could be a favorite in their inaugural Vine Valley Athletic League campaign next winter after their junior varsity squad finished 17-0-3 overall and 9-0-1 in the MEL under Coach Covarrubias. They outscored their competition 89-10, with all 21 field players contributing either a goal or an assist.
Anthony Enriquez had a team-high 17 goals along with two assists. Jorge Galvan had 15 goals and, with eight assists, shared the team lead with Luis Mendoza, who scored four goals. Pedro Avila had seven goals and six assists, Enrique Saenz six goals and five assists, and Nathan Ruchy Ramirez had four goals and seven assists.