Coach cites St. Francis seniors' leadership as key to soccer team's success this season

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
St. Francis High’s Mira Nepomuceno is one of six seniors on the soccer team, which sits in first place in the WCAL.

Based on its sparkling 12-3-2 record and first-place standing in the ultracompetitive West Catholic Athletic League, the St. Francis High girls soccer team isn’t short on strengths. But one attribute stands out from the rest, according to coach Dawn Hill.

“It’s the senior class and how well they have made the team come together,” she said. “This is probably the closest team we’ve had my whole time here.”

That’s saying a lot, since Hill is in her 13th season guiding the Lancers.

The six seniors – Marlena Axelsson, Sophia Bernal, Sofia Jones, Madelyn Faul, Mira Nepomuceno and Annika Opsasnick – have been leaders on and off the field, according to the coach. Hill noted that they’ve made the new players, including the three freshmen, feel welcome by organizing team dinners that have helped the entire squad grow closer.

“It’s great how well everyone gets along,” the coach said. “They want to play for each other.”

They also want to play into March for the opportunity to claim a Central Coast Section championship.

“The long-term goal is always to win CCS,” said Hill, whose team is tied with Mitty for first place in the WCAL at 6-1-2. “But our first goal is to win league, which we haven’t done in a couple years, and the second is to make the (CCS) Open Division.”

Last year, the Lancers landed the final berth in the Open Division – which brings together the top eight teams in CCS, regardless of school size – but they fell in the first round to top-seeded Mountain View on a penalty kick in the closing minutes.

“That was a painful loss, and I’m sure it’s still in the minds of the returning players,” Hill said of the 1-0 defeat, “but they’re also excited about the playoffs and making a run this year. This group of girls is pretty resilient – they have a good mindset and know what they want to accomplish.”

Midfielders Jones and Nepomuceno have been key to St. Francis’ success, the coach added. She said Jones, who recently committed to Santa Clara University, “holds the middle together” and that Nepomuceno “has done a really good job for us.”

Another midfielder, newcomer Michaela Bloyd, has impressed the coach as well. Hill said the junior “has done a fabulous job.”

The midfield and defense are the strongest units on the team, according to the coach. She praised the play of her center backs – freshman Lauren Beers and junior Lily Perryman – along with goalkeeper Axelsson.

“Marlena has been great for us,” Hill said of her goalie. “It’s not an easy task to replace Courtney (Ogren, now at Santa Clara University), but she learned a lot from her last year.”

The defense has been stout throughout the season; the Lancers have posted eight shutouts and allowed only six goals.

On the other end of the field, St. Francis has produced 32 goals with a balanced attack. Ten players have scored, with freshman Sarah Paulson leading the way with four goals. Her twin sister, Catherine, has four assists – matching Jones for team-high honors – along with one goal. Jones, Bernal, Bloyd and sophomore Riley Burrill have two goals each.

“The goals have been really spread out,” Hill said.

That helps illustrate the coach’s point that “a lot of players have stepped up to make the team as successful as it is, including players off the bench.”

The Lancers, coming off Saturday’s 1-0 win at Sacred Heart Cathedral, are scheduled to conclude the regular season 6 p.m. today at home against St. Ignatius.

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