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Jocelyn Travers is like a rock in a slingshot for Santa Cruz High’s girls’ soccer team.
Initially, Cardinals coach Poul Schiebel hides the center midfielder behind his front line. He keeps her pulled back partly to take advantage of her prodigious defensive skills, which landed her a spot on U.S. Soccer’s 15-and-under national squad earlier this year.
Primarily, though, Schiebel does this to force opposing teams to key on other players. This way, once Travers finds an opening, she can come rocketing out of the backfield – with the ball or without it – and get into position to score.
This strategy has worked well for Santa Cruz, as Travers has lit up opponents for 11 goals this season. The sophomore is perhaps the biggest reason why the Cardinals (6-1) are primed to contend for this year’s Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League title despite losing 11 seniors from last year’s squad, which went 15-1-1, didn’t lose a league match and reached the Central Coast Section Division I final.
“Until someone knocks off Santa Cruz, they’re the team to beat,” Harbor coach Wes Bare said.
Travers made the U.S. National 15U team as an outside back last March. By making the squad, Travers put herself in the pipeline of players most likely to one day comprise the USWNT.
She traveled with Team USA’s 15U squad to The Netherlands in June, playing matches against her age-group counterparts from both the host country and Germany.
“I got to play with an amazing group of people,” Travers said. “I got to meet new girls from all over the country – I see them at showcases. They were the best people I’ve ever played with, because they are the best (in the country). It was an unforgettable experience.”
Playing with so many new teammates also prepared Travers for the leadership role she’s been thrust into this season. She’s one of just five players returning on an overwhelmingly young Santa Cruz squad featuring just two seniors – attacking midfielder Zaina Alahaina and defender Clare Byram.
“Last year was a fantasy year, honestly,” Travers said. “I was a freshman on a team with 11 seniors that had played together for a good portion of their lives. They were destined to win – it was sort of set up perfectly.”
An All-SCCAL first-team selection as a defender in 2021-22, Travers didn’t score much last season. With a pair of 20-goal scorers in Julia Moore and Samantha Wenger, the Cardinals didn’t need her to – though she did have five assists, according to MBayPreps.com.
Still, after losing so much offensive production, Schiebel needed to find a way to replace some of it. So, the first-year coach turned to Travers, hoping to use her speed to the Cardinals’ advantage.
“It’s hard for teams to keep up with her,” Schiebel said. “She’ll leave two players in the dust, then take on another two in a second. It’s pretty fun to watch.”
While Travers’ move from outside back to center midfield has worked well for the Cardinals so far, it’s also been a bit of an adjustment.
“As an outside back, you’re in more of a 180 (degree) position,” she said. “Midfield is more of a 360 position – I have to know everything that’s going on around me in the middle of the field.”
It’s an adjustment Travers has been happy to make, however, as it has enabled her to add an offensive element to her game while still allowing her the freedom to race back and help her teammates on defense, where she truly excels.
“When she gets more vision, she’ll be much more dangerous,” said Schiebel, who noted that Travers’ ability to read the field is already solid. “She’s also got a good shot on her.”
Travers, Alahaina and Byram aren’t Santa Cruz’s only returning players. Also back are juniors Clara Willet, who frequently plays alongside Travers at center midfield and assists the defense to free up Travers offensively, and Ruby Holmes, the Cardinals’ goalkeeper.
Joining Byram on Santa Cruz’s back line are juniors Maya Kingsley, Lucinda Steiner and Sienna Parker. Kingsley and Steiner play in the center, while Byram and Parker play on the outside.
Santa Cruz’s chief challenger for SCCAL supremacy will likely be Aptos – which, like the Cardinals, is largely in rebuilding mode, having lost several players from the team that went 17-3-2 and reached the CCS Division II playoffs.
Three seniors return for the Mariners – most notably Summer Jacob, a defensive midfielder who made the All-SCCAL first team, and Gwen Chapman, an attacking midfielder who earned a second-team nod. Catalina Ontiveros returns at center back.
Also returning for Aptos is junior forward Ella Shoemaker, whose four goals currently lead a team that is 4-2-1 despite losing 30-goal scorer Jazmin Castañeda, who is now at Cal State Monterey Bay.
“I’d like to see us finish more in the final third (of the field) and score more goals,” Aptos coach Gina Castañeda said. “We do a good job of getting there. We just need to have some composure and find the back of the net.”
Juniors Kaitlin Murphy and Ava Churchill return for the Mariners at center midfield and wing, respectively. Freshman Alexa Castañeda has earned a starting not alongside Murphy at center midfield, and classmate Maddie Redding can play either the outside or center back positions.
Soquel is the only team in the SCCAL with two returning seniors named to the all-league first team last winter. One is Yaren Yanez, the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Goalie, who has missed much of the season due to injuries and club commitments but should make the Knights more formidable defensively once SCCAL play begins.
“She’ll probably be Keeper of the Year again this year,” Knights coach Jose Sierra said. “She’s that good. She just makes our defense – our entire team – so much better.
“She calms everybody – ‘I’ve got this.’ ”
The Knights’ other returning first-teamer is attacking midfielder Lily Montesinos, who recorded a team-high seven goals last winter, according to MBayPreps.com. While she’s only netted two goals thus far this season, she’s still helped generate plenty of offense with three assists.
The same can be said of junior forward Julia Inkeles, who scored five goals last season: While the all-league second-team selection only has one goal this year, she has a team-high seven assists. Junior midfielder Sadie Strout, an All-SCCAL honorable mention last season, currently leads Soquel in goals with five.
Leading Soquel’s back row is sophomore Chloe McGilvray, who plays alongside promising freshmen Hailey Betterman and Indiana Smith.
At 6-4 entering league play – including a sweep of all five Watsonville-area schools – Harbor could be a dark-horse contender for the SCCAL crown. The Pirates stumbled last season after making the CCS playoffs for the first time in more than a decade a year earlier.
This year’s Harbor team has more seasoned veterans than previous teams did, according to Bare.
“A lot of our players have been on varsity since freshman year,” Bare said. “They’ve got three or four years of experience and maturity, and that experience has showed off pretty well so far.”
Leading the Pirates are three All-SCCAL honorable mentions, junior attacking midfielder Sonja Hulphers and senior defenders Hannah LoFranco and Ava Root. Hulphers has tallied seven goals and three assists – both team highs – in 10 matches this season.
Also back for Harbor are junior midfielders Anika Dawson and Zoe Soenen. Ruby McAlister, also a junior, has primarily been a defender thus far but will likely move to a forward spot once league play begins.
Freshman forward Reese Weiss has scored three goals for the Pirates, as has senior Isabella Horn. Becca Vaca, a sophomore transfer from Soquel, should give Harbor a boost once SCCAL play gets underway.
With just three seniors and three juniors, Scotts Valley has an overwhelmingly young squad. One of those seniors, however, is forward/midfielder Naiya Samios, who earned All-SCCAL first-team honors after leading the Falcons with 10 goals and five assists last season.
Through eight games this season, Samios is already halfway to her goal total from last winter. Her efforts have enabled Scotts Valley to finish the nonleague portion of their schedule with a respectable 3-3-2 record.
Also back for the Falcons are senior defender Alex Teves, an All-SCCAL second-team selection as a midfielder last year, and sophomore forward Lia Lock. In addition, Scotts Valley has a pair of standout freshmen in outside back Ella Ireland and forward Ava Decleve.
Scotts Valley coach Taylor Raymond believes her team could surprise some SCCAL teams despite its collective youth.
“Every single game so far, we’ve worked hard together,” Raymond said. “That’s been one of our struggles in the past – we had good individual players, but we have not come together as a team.
“Also, we’ve had the maximum amount of effort at all of our practices and games. The girls are very committed to the team, and it’s noticeable.”
San Lorenzo Valley struggled to a 1-18-1 record last season. However, the Cougars are steadily improving – for instance, they’ve already won once this year, beating Pajaro Valley on Dec. 6.
“The girls are starting to buy into our system, improve their skills and understand what it means to play committed soccer,” SLV coach Kim Petersen said.
Even so, given how stacked the SCCAL is, the Cougars aren’t ready to contend for a championship just yet.
“We’ll have to fight and claw our way out of the basement,” Petersen said. “Building a team that can play in a league this good requires some time.”
Taylor Long, an All-SCCAL second-team goalkeeper last season, is splitting time in the net with fellow junior Allison Bingham. SLV also has a pair of all-league honorable mentions, senior Gianna Schwarzbach and junior Leila Nite, returning in the midfield, where they play alongside senior Katie Wise and sophomore Naomi Siston.
Sophomore forwards Jessica Stoelting and Ruby Nunns, a former defender, have shown promise, combining for all three of the Cougars’ goals. Junior Jocelyn Carkner has excelled as a center back, according to Petersen.
Over in the Pacific Coast Athletic League, Monte Vista Christian will attempt to make another run at a CCS playoff berth under first-year coach John Martin despite stumbling to a 1-4-2 start.
The Mustangs’ top returning player is junior goalkeeper Alexa Malaspina. An All-Mission Division first-team selection last season, Malaspina has her sights set on playing at the NCAA Division I level and is garnering attention from college recruiters.
“She’s been holding everything down back there since she was a freshman,” Martin said. “She’s got a good future ahead of her if she continues down this path.”
Also back for MVC is junior forward Julia Reiland, an All-Mission Division second-team selection who leads the Mustangs with four goals this season. Senior Alex Kjeldson and sophomore Ashlyn Hoffman return as defenders, as does junior Amanda Prasad in the midfield
Freshman striker Ashley Drago has already established herself as an offensive threat, netting two goals for MVC. Fellow freshman Audrey Graham has displayed “great ball skills” as a midfielder, Martin said.
Making the leap from the third-tier Cypress Division to the second-tier Mission is Pajaro Valley, which boasts three players who made the All-Cypress first team last winter. Chief among them is senior midfielders Karla Leyva, who had six goals and a team-high four assists for the Grizzlies in 2021-22, and Jocelyn Llamas.
Also back for Pajaro Valley is their leading goal scorer, sophomore midfielder Valeria Acosta, who drilled home 10 goals last season and has six thus far this winter – second only to classmate Leslie Carrisoza’s seven. Senior forward Ashley Cardenas, who netted six goals last season, returns as well, as do senior center back Jocelyn Fernandez and junior wing Maricza Rodriguez.
Sophomore midfielder Leilani Vazquez and freshman center back Daisy Garcia are both promising newcomers for the Grizzlies.
“Our biggest strength is our depth,” Pajaro Valley coach Kristian Flores said. “We have two players at every position who are at a similar level of play.”
Along with MVC and Pajaro Valley in the Mission Division is Pacific Collegiate, whose top goal scorer from last season, senior Rosalyn Bourdow, returns. An All-Mission first-team selection last winter, Bourdow scored five goals for the Pumas and has already matched that total in 2022.
Watsonville is Santa Cruz County’s only representative in the PCAL’s elite Gabilan Division. The Wildcatz went 5-14-1 last season, didn’t defeat a Gabilan opponent and have yet to win this season.
Still, Watsonville coach Gladys Mondragon sees reason for optimism – and not just because Gilroy’s two powerhouse schools, CCS Division II champion Christopher and Gilroy High, are no longer in the league.
“We did play a very difficult nonconference schedule,” Mondragon said. “That should enable us to be battle-tested when it comes to league. We’ve got a young team that gives us a full team effort.”
Chief among the Wildcatz’ returning players is junior midfielder Melanie Nunez, an All-Gabilan first-team selection last season. Also back are forwards Kiana Varela and Aubreana Rodriguez.
Mondragon believes junior goalkeeper Julianna Ramirez should be “a big-time stopper in goal.” Freshman defenders Jayleen Zamora and Jasleen Herrera have shown promise in the Wildcatz’ back row, as has classmate Shaylah Melendez at forward.
The lone Santa Cruz County team in the PCAL’s Cypress Division, St. Francis, posted a respectable 7-7-2 record last winter. The Sharks have struggled this season though, going winless thus far.
St. Francis’ best result has been a 3-3 tie against Marina – the only match in which the Sharks have scored. Miriam Abonce scored twice in that contest, with Emma Pettersen tallying once.
No information was available on Ceiba Prep, which competes in the PCAL’s fourth-tier Santa Lucia Division.
Harbor at SLV, 3:30 p.m.
Ceiba at Trinity Christian, 3:30 p.m.
North Salinas at Watsonville, 6:45 p.m.
Soquel vs. Aptos (postponed)
(NOTE: Match dates and time are subject to change due to weather, field conditions)
Jocelyn Travers, Santa Cruz, So., DMF: Already in the U.S. national team’s pipeline, she’s scored a team-high 11 goals for the Cardinals, last year’s CCS Division 1 runner-up.
Summer Jacob, Aptos, Sr., DMF: An All-SCCAL first-team selection in 2021-22, her leadership and presence should prove invaluable for a young but talented Mariners squad.
Lily Montesinos, Soquel, Sr., AMF: The returning All-SCCAL first-team selection recorded a team-high seven goals for the Knights last season and leads Soquel in assists this year.
Naiya Samios, Scotts Valley, Sr., For./CMF: The All-SCCAL first-team selection led the Falcons with 10 goals and five assists last season and has a team-high five goals this season.
Yaren Yanez, Soquel, Sr., GK: The SCCAL’s reigning Most Outstanding Goalie is “a wall” in the net, according to Scotts Valley coach Taylor Raymond.
Rosalyn Bourdow, Pacific Collegiate, Sr., For.: The Pumas’ top scorer in 2021-22, the All-PCAL Mission Division first-team selection has already matched last season’s goal title (five).
Sonja Hulphers, Harbor, Jr., AMF: An All-SCCAL honorable mention last season, she leads the upstart Pirates (6-4) with seven goals and three assists.
Alexa Malaspina, Monte Vista Christian, Jr., GK: The goalie is drawing attention from college recruiters after leading the Mustangs to last year’s CCS Division 4 quarterfinals.
Melanie Nunez, Watsonville, Jr., MF: The Wildcatz are counting on the All-PCAL Gabilan Division first-team selection to engineer a turnaround after a rough preseason.
Valeria Acosta, Pajaro Valley, So., MF: A 10-goal scorer as a freshman, the All-PCAL Cypress Division first-team selection already has six this season.
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