Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Mountain View High’s Morgan Matthews, left, heads the ball in Thursday’s game.
The Mountain View High girls soccer team has a lot going for it – experience, depth and talent – but the Spartans have lost the element of surprise after claiming the Central Coast Section Division I championship last season.
“It’s going to be harder this year – we can’t sneak up on any team,” said Ivan Bandov, who guided Mountain View to its first CCS crown in his first season as coach. “It’s a good challenge, but a different one.”
It’s a challenge Bandov is confident his girls are ready for.
“We have a good group of kids, and they understand that they can’t take anything for granted. They know people want to beat us even more and there’s less room to slack off,” he said. “They’re working hard and have the right mentality. They like to win and don’t like the feeling of losing, and they do what they can to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
So far, it hasn’t. Mountain View is off to a 4-0 start. The Spartans – who surrendered just one goal in the playoffs a season ago – have allowed only one so far this season.
On the other end of the field, Mountain View has scored nine goals.
The Spartans have compiled these lofty numbers without two of their best players from last year. Goalie Sarah Benett and forward Emily Andrew, both all-leaguers, graduated in the spring.
“Last year we depended on certain players and didn’t play as much as a team,” said Bandov, who returns seven starters. “This year we can’t do that. We definitely have to play as a team to succeed.”
Mountain View has scores of scorers, including two talented young athletes playing forward. Sophomore Morgan Matthews tops the team with four goals and freshman Ysabel Baluyot has three.
“They have different styles, but they’re both dangerous,” Bandov said. “Ysabel is crafty and tricky. Morgan is faster, good in the air and uses both feet to score.”
Baluyot scored the first goal in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over San Mateo Saturday in the opening round of the Burlingame Winter Tournament. Sophomore forward Morgan DeAngelis put in the second goal, assisted by Erica Higa.
Higa, an attacking midfielder, has seven assists. The junior set up both goals in Thursday’s 2-0 home win over Aptos. After assisting Matthews on what Bandov called “a terrific goal” in the 11th minute, Higa helped junior midfielder Danna Weintraub score on a header in the 25th minute.
“Erica is one of the more creative players around,” the coach said. “She runs the midfield and is kind of the playmaker. She’s been great.”
Bandov added that Higa has taken on more of a leadership role this season. She and two seniors – midfielder Allie Gamble and defender Emma Donckels – are the team captains.
As a defensive midfielder, Gamble “is not in the box score a lot, but she plays one of the most important positions,” Bandov said. “I look for her to have a big year.”
Donckels is returning from a knee injury that cost her the second half of last season.
“It’s definitely nice to have her back,” Bandov said. “She’s very good in the air.”
The 5-foot-8 Donckels teams with junior Neha Cheemalavagu at center fullback.
“They anchor the back line,” Bandov said. “Neha is a smart, intelligent player who does a great job in the back.”
The coach also praised the fullbacks who flank them – solid senior Sonia Nigam and athletic freshman Rachel Ng.
Alisha Brown, who sat behind Benett last season, starts in goal. She’s notched eight saves.
“It’s her chance to shine, and she’s doing well so far,” Bandov said. “She’s getting better each day.”
Mountain View has 21 players on its roster and the coach regularly plays 14 to 15 of them.
“We have a little more depth and a good mix of experience this year,” Bandov said. “Fifteen of the players are juniors and seniors.”
The coach noted that his Spartans have set several team goals, such as contending for the league title and another CCS crown. Bandov expects Los Gatos to be right there with them. Mountain View last season finished second to the Wildcats in the daunting Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division, then edged them 1-0 in the CCS final.
“Los Gatos, on paper, is probably the favorite to win league,” he said. “But Monta Vista is solid and Homestead moved up (divisions) and is solid, and Saratoga and Los Altos are capable. There’s no such thing as an easy win in this league.”
Mountain View is slated to open league 3:30 p.m. Jan. 2 at Los Gatos. The Spartans have several games scheduled before that, including 3:30 p.m. Thursday at home against Carlmont.