If finishing a half-point shy of a Central Coast Section playoff berth last year wasn’t hard enough for the Gunn High girls soccer team to swallow, just imagine how the Titans feel after missing CCS by a quarter of a point this season.
“The team was really disappointed and sad that we deserved to play but didn’t qualify,” said coach Juan Mayora, who has five Los Altos Hills residents on his squad.
While Mayora liked the Titans’ chances of qualifying prior to Thursday’s seeding meeting – they finished second to Los Altos in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League El Camino Division and went 11-7-2 overall – he was concerned that a certain CCS rule could hurt them. Only the last 18 games of the season are taken into consideration when a team applies for the playoffs; Gunn played 20, kicking off the campaign with a 2-0 upset of Palo Alto.
So did that rule prevent the Titans from getting in?
“It didn’t help,” said Mayora, whose team lost out to Woodside for the final at-large berth.
A day before the seeding meeting, Gunn goalie Nicole Smith was also cautiously optimistic about her team’s playoff chances.
“We hope to make it this year, but I’m not sure what to expect,” the Los Altos Hills resident said. “It was definitely tough not making it last year, but it motivated us for this season and we pushed even harder.”
The Nov. 27 win at rival Paly – a team Gunn hadn’t defeated in several years – “was a super big deal for us,” Smith said.
It was also the Titans’ lone win of a challenging pre-league slate intended to prepare them for division play and beyond, according to Mayora. Gunn went 10-2 in the El Camino, outscoring opponents 29-5. Smith, who split time in goal with senior Ellie Roodman, surrendered just one goal in league.
“She had a great season last year and is following that up this season,” Mayora said of Smith.
Smith’s younger sister, Natalie, has impressed the coach as well. The first midfielder off the bench, the freshman notched three goals and three assists this season.
“She does a good job,” the coach said. “I expect her to start next season.”
Nicole added that playing on the same team with her younger sister “is super fun.”
Three other Los Altos Hills residents contributed to the team: Lauryn Nakamitsu and Molly Wilkinson on defense and Morgan Cianfichi at forward. All of them are sophomores.
Starting stopper Nakamitsu “is small in size, but she’s strong, quick and smart,” Mayora said.
Wilkinson, the first defender off the bench, “is very strong and a smart player who helps with our attack,” the coach said.
Cianfichi is the first forward to come off the bench, according to Mayora, who called her “a total team player.”
Although Gunn is loaded with sophomores (nine) and freshmen (six), Nicole noted that they shouldn’t be underestimated.
“We have a lot of young players, but they definitely hold their own on the field,” she said. “They’re really good.”