Junior Mikayla Farber, reigning co-offensive BVAL Player of the Year, and her sister Brianna, also an all-league pick, will lead a team of 15 freshmen and sophomores. Lions head coach Tony Martins said this is probably one of the youngest squads he’s coached, but he’s excited for the season.
Freshman midfielder Quiana Ashley-White has impressed the coach early on with her speed and work ethic. Goalkeeper Gabby Ciccolella and midfielder Paige Dudek are both sophomores from last season who will play a vital role now.
“That’s going to be up to me and the staff to give them some experience really quickly,” Martins said. “We’re really pleased. It’s a hardworking group.”
Also back from a Liberty team that went 18-3-4 overall (12-1-2 in league play) are senior defender Tatyana Martinez and senior midfielder Chandler Meyer. The Lions made it to the second round of the North Coast Section playoffs last year, but lost 3-1 to top-seed Castro Valley.
Liberty will face a stiff challenge from an improving Heritage team, which finished second in the league last year, going 12-7-5 (8-3-4 BVAL). The Patriots lost in the first round of the NCS playoffs to San Ramon Valley.
Heritage will return a talented group of seniors, including goalkeeper Katie Barsanti, forward Ari Gordon and midfielder Mikayla Griggs. Gordon was co-offensive player of the year with Liberty’s Mikayla Farber; Barsanti and Griggs were both first-team all-league selections. Junior midfielder Kayla Hinojosa, a second-team all-BVAL player last year, will also be a key contributor this season.
“We’re getting better,” head coach Randy James said. “We’ve got a pretty good group coming back.”
Heritage will also look to newcomers, such as sophomore midfielder Taylor Allen, sophomore defender Viviana Diaz, freshman defender Sarah Toelkes and freshman forward Kylee Smith.
Freedom, which ended last year 13-4-8 (8-3-4 in BVAL play), met the same fate as the Patriots – losing to San Ramon Valley in the second round of the playoffs. The Falcons will restart their run for the postseason with plenty of familiar faces. Head coach Marc Crockett said the team lost only two starters to graduation.
Senior goalkeeper Jessica Deno was responsible for seven shutouts last season and made 79 saves. Senior center midfielder Clarissa Diaz, a second-team all-league player, as well as juniors Kiki Simmons (forward) and Angel Goss (midfielder) will take on important leadership roles for the Falcons this season.
Two seniors who missed major time last year with knee injuries – forward Krystal Espindola and Meghan Delamater – are healthy and ready to go. According to Crockett, Espindola showed a great ability to find the net in her senior year, a crucial factor this season. “I’m pretty hopeful that we’ll have a good season, barring any injuries,” he said. “We have a lot of team unity … and our core is pretty much the same as last year.”
The Antioch Panthers finished fourth in the BVAL last season with a 13-8-4 record (7-6-2 against league teams), but fell in the first playoff round to Castro Valley. Antioch was motivated by its first-ever post-season run and looks to make it back this season, albeit without players such as Melissa Holmes and Dallas Butterfield, who were all-BVAL selections last year and have graduated.
The Panthers will be a young team this year, fielding only four seniors. Head coach Scott Joseph said he could pencil as many as four freshmen into his starting lineup. It will be up to seniors – midfielder Gianna Lucido, defender Paige Bickford, goalkeeper Kaitlyn Mackusick and striker Jessica Huerta – to bring the underclassmen up to speed. Huerta led the team with 15 goals and 31 assists last season.
Joseph said some of the freshmen on this team could make a definite impression, including midfielder Ashley Scannell and forward Kailee Soares.
Deer Valley hopes to bounce back from a season in which the Wolverines went 6-12-4 overall and 2-9-3 in BVAL play.
Deer Valley will count on the leadership of senior defender Bryanna Cooper as well as junior defender Brianna Pickens and junior midfielders Samantha Martin and Lauren Ayers. The Wolverines’ strong underclassman contingent features sophomore midfielder Alyssa Slate, sophomore midfielder/forward Taylor Cooper (Bryanna’s sister) and freshman forward Sidne Spencer.
Head coach Jesse Zuniga has been impressed with the way the girls have worked together so far. “They are workhorses, they’re in great shape and their attitude is fantastic,” Zuniga said of the younger players. “They’re really challenging the others.”
Pittsburg started the season in search of its first win since Jan. 30, 2007, when the Pirates topped Ygnacio Valley 1-0. Pittsburg went 0-19 last year, 14 of those losses against league foes.
The Pirates got the first “W” out of the way early, beating Mt. Diablo 2-1. As of Monday, Pittsburg is 2-0-2. Through those first four games, freshman forward Camille Thompson leads the team in scoring with four goals.