Finding her place: Gunn grad Smith to play goalie for UW

Nicole Smith
Courtesy of Nicole Smith
Los Altos Hills resident Nicole Smith, shown playing with her Palo Alto Soccer Club team, recently committed to play for the University of Washington.

By Pete Borello
Staff Writer/This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

There was a time when all-league goalkeeper Nicole Smith preferred producing goals to preventing them.

“When I first started playing soccer, I didn’t want to play goalkeeper,” the Los Altos Hills resident said. “I liked to score goals and run around in the field.”

But when Smith’s dad became her coach when she was about 8 years old, everything changed.

“No one wanted to play goalkeeper, so he forced me to do it,” said Smith, who graduated from Gunn High early this month. “By sixth or seventh grade, I was doing it full time. I started to realize it was really fun, and I appreciated the position more.”

The coaching staff at the University of Washington clearly appreciates how Smith plays the position; the Huskies offered her a scholarship that she accepted in April.

“The (recruiting) process was different than most people’s because I had verbally committed to a (NCAA) Division III school my sophomore year,” Smith said, referring to MIT. “For academic reasons, it didn’t work out. … I was upset at first, but now I’m super excited by how it worked out. I get to play DI – and Seattle is such a cool city.”

Smith applied to the data science program at Washington and contacted coach Nicole Van Dyke about joining the Huskies, sending training video and game highlights of her playing for Gunn and the Palo Alto Soccer Club. It turns out Van Dyke was already familiar with Smith.

“I went to a soccer camp at an Ivy League school (University of Pennsylvania) she previously coached at,” Smith said of Van Dyke, who is entering her first year as coach at Washington. “Our paths aligned.”

Smith will enter the Huskies’ fall season as one of only three goalies on the roster – and only one of them is a returning player.

“I’m not sure what to expect,” Smith said of her freshman season. “I’ve met some of the players on Zoom, and I look forward to getting on campus. I plan to get there by late July and the preseason is supposed to start in August, but everything’s tentative right now due to coronavirus.”

Getting ready
In the meantime, Smith is preparing for the season by running in Los Altos Hills – “It’s good training, especially uphill,” she said – and working on her goalkeeping at open fields and parks with younger sister Natalie.

“She’s a field player,” Smith said of the rising junior, “so she can shoot on me.”

The Smith sisters played together at Gunn two years ago, but Natalie devoted this past season to her club team. Nicole played on the Titans’ varsity team all four years.
Juan Mayora, who coached her the first three years, watched Smith steadily improve.

“She had a great season last year,” he told the Town Crier during Smith’s junior year, “and is following that up this season.”

Making an impact

As a senior, Smith was named team captain under new head coach Leo Barcellos.

“It was an honor and super fun,” Smith said of serving as captain. “I focused on leading by example and creating a fun atmosphere. I encouraged them to have fun and work hard at the same time.”

It would prove to be the best season of Smith’s high school career. After narrowly missing the Central Coast Section playoffs her sophomore and junior years, Gunn qualified this year by winning the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League El Camino Division.

“It was the first time we’ve won league in recent program history,” said Smith, whose squad went 12-0 in the division and finished 15-4-2 overall after falling to Sobrato in the CCS semifinals. “I couldn’t find in the records when it last happened, but I’m guessing it was in the ’80s. There’s no (championship) banner in the gym; hopefully we’ll get one now.”

Smith played an integral role in Gunn’s success. Over her 20 starts in goal, she surrendered only 15 goals, made 92 saves and posted six shutouts. Smith allowed an average of just 1.21 goals per game.

Smith said the highlight of her season was a game she barely played in – the Titans’ 2-1 upset of Aptos in the CCS Division I quarterfinals Feb. 22. Smith received a red card early in the first half for tackling a player and was ejected.

“It was probably my first red card,” she said. “(Aptos) had a breakaway, so I risked it and came out and tried to defend her like a field player. The risk was worth it, because we didn’t get scored on, but it was frustrating not to play in such a competitive game. I was still pumped that we were able to pull it out. The spirit and energy I felt on the field and on the bench was like no other high school game I’ve played in.”

Another game that sticks in Smith’s mind: Gunn’s 2-0 upset of Palo Alto to kick off her junior season.

“That was the first time we beat them in a decade,” Smith said. “It was my first season as the starting goalie, and there was the stress of playing your hometown rival in the first game of the season. I felt I played well under the stress.”

Mindset matters

Smith has learned to handle the stress of guarding the goal by not dwelling on the shots that get by her.

“A coach once told me that goalkeepers need to have a bad memory,” she said. “The hardest part is getting scored on in games and in training when they get 30 shots on you, and a bunch go in and you feel like you failed. You have to realize it’s helping you get better.”

Smith added that her goalkeeping coach, Rodrigo Baptista of the Palo Alto Soccer Club, has helped instill that in her.

“He’s been great,” she said. “I’m especially thankful to Rodrigo and my parents (Jim and Patricia) for their support through the (recruiting) process. There were moments that I thought it was not going to work out, and they told me to keep pushing – and I’m glad I did.”

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Soccer coach Hill leaves St. Francis with 4 CCS titles & lots of memories

Dawn Hill
Courtesy of Dawn Hill
St. Francis High girls soccer coach Dawn Hill talks with senior captain Kelly Schultz during a game last season. Hill resigned after 17 years because her family is relocating. She led the Lancers to four CCS titles.

By Pete Borello

Staff Writer/This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

If anyone had told a teenaged Dawn Hill that her future would include spending 17 years as varsity girls soccer coach at St. Francis High, she probably would have vehemently denied such a notion.

“I went to Lynbrook, and St. Francis was our biggest rival in soccer and volleyball,” the Cupertino native said. “I didn’t like St. Francis growing up.”

Hill – who resigned last month because her family is moving out of state – almost declined a job interview at St. Francis after earning her teaching degree from Santa Clara University.

“I told my dad that I didn’t know if I could work at St. Francis,” said Hill, who had applied to teach math and coach soccer at the school. “He convinced me to go interview, and I’m so thankful he encouraged me to take that step. It worked out perfectly.”

Her feelings about the school that handed her Lynbrook soccer team tough loss after tough loss changed dramatically once she stepped on campus for that interview in 2003.

“I fell in love with it,” she said. “I wanted to be part of a school community where not everyone leaves at 3, and the campus was packed at 4:30.”

Those feelings became mutual. Hill leaves St. Francis as one of its longest-tenured head coaches and among the most successful to wear the brown, white and gold.

“We cannot thank coach Hill enough for her leadership, passion and expertise that she brought to our program the past 17 years,” director of athletics Michael Pilawski said in a statement. “As a teacher and coach, she has been a tremendous role model and has had great success on and off the field. Her presence on our campus will be greatly missed. We wish her and her family much happiness as they embark on this next phase of their lives together.”

Hill has plenty of St. Francis memories to take with her to Boise, Idaho, the place her family will move to at the end of the school year because “we wanted change – a slower pace of life,” she said. In her 17 seasons leading the Lancers, they never missed the Central Coast Section playoffs and advanced beyond the quarterfinals 14 times. Seven of those teams made the finals, with four of them leaving the field as champions. In 2010, she was selected as the CCS Honor Coach for her sport.

Hill doesn’t coach for titles and accolades, however.

“It’s nice to win and have such great players, but the relationships are the reason I coach,” she said. “The relationships you build with students as a coach are different than as a classroom teacher, and I cherish that most.”

For Hill, nothing beats having lunch with a former player to catch up or simply exchanging a few text messages with them. The job is all about making a lasting impression.

“As a coach, you hope to be a positive role model,” she said.

Hill already knows what she will miss most about St. Francis: the players. She’s coached some great ones – including prolific scorer Annie Kingman (who played at the University of North Carolina) and shot-smothering goalie Courtney Ogren (Santa Clara University) – along with adept midfielders such as Kelly Jarvis and Sofia Jones, both part of CCS championship teams. Jones, now a standout at Santa Clara, played on Hill’s last title team – the 2018 squad that shut out Woodside in the DI final.

“Another thing I will miss besides the players is seeing the emotions during the big moments,” Hill said. “Some of the most fun memories are beating rivals and winning CCS, but losing is emotional, too. Seeing that joy or those tears can stay with you forever.”

Perhaps no game sticks in Hill’s mind more than the Lancers’ overtime loss to Mountain View in the 2016 CCS Open Division quarterfinals, a game decided on penalty kicks.

“We had a very good team that year, and they were a very tight group,” she said. “We sat there after what was a brutal way to end, and the seniors shared (their feelings) and there were tears. It was a really cool team moment, even though it came from a loss. It was one of my favorite team moments.”

Hill, who coached at Monta Vista High before coming to St. Francis, isn’t sure when she will have a chance to make more lasting memories like that one. Idaho plays its high school soccer season in the fall, so that’s out, but she does expect to walk the sideline again.

“I’m going to take a little break from head coaching; it takes a lot of energy to run a program,” said Hill, whose daughter will be entering junior high. “It would be fun to coach a JV or freshman team – something more low key. I’ll miss it if I don’t.”

Hill added that she promised her St. Francis players she would come back to watch them play a game or two next season. St. Francis recently named Carlos Barboza, Hill’s assistant coach the past two seasons, as her replacement.

“I think he will be great for the program,” she said. “I’m excited to see what he does.”

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Burlingame's long shot ends Mountain View's soccer season

Isabella Walker
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Mountain View High forward Isabella Walker heads the ball in last week’s NorCal Division I quarterfinal game against Burlingame. The Spartans lost 1-0.

The top-seeded Mountain View High girls soccer team had more scoring chances in last week’s Northern California Division III quarterfinal match, but No. 8 Burlingame had the one that mattered most.

The visiting Panthers scored the game’s lone goal with approximately 10 minutes left in the first half – and it came on a long-range shot from defender Ella Macko.

Spartans shut out Sobrato in DI final


Courtesy of Mountain View High girls soccer
The Mountain View High girls soccer team is all smiles after winning the CCS Division I title.

The manner in which the Mountain View High girls soccer team dominated Saturday’s Central Coast Section Division I final showed it belonged – in the CCS Open Division.

The Spartans, who missed joining the Open’s elite eight by half of a point, shut out Ann Sobrato of Morgan Hill 3-0 in Saturday’s Division I championship game at Del Mar in San Jose.

Spartans finding their groove


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Mountain View High’s Isabella Walker, right, pursues the ball, with Los Altos High’s Raquel Susko close behind her in a recent league game between the rival schools. Walker, a sophomore, notched four goals and four assists through 17 games this season.

Although the Mountain View High girls soccer team won’t be in first place when the season ends – snapping a six-year run as SCVAL De Anza Division champion – the Spartans still seem to be in a good place as the playoffs approach.

“It’s kind of disappointing,” said sophomore Isabella Walker, whose team can finish no higher than second to Los Gatos. “But we’ve grown so much this season. I’m proud of how far we’ve come.”


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