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.”

After a so-so start – Mountain View went 4-3-1 prior to league play – the team has found its footing. Last week’s 3-0 home win over Palo Alto put the Spartans at 9-5-3 overall.

“We’re doing really well,” coach Jeff Panos said of his team, now 5-2-3 in league. “I think we’re peaking at the right time of the season.”

Panos, who replaced longtime coach Ivan Bandov this season, noted that it took time for the players to adjust to the possession style of soccer he prefers. And he is not the Spartans’ only new face; the roster includes 12 players who weren’t part of the team that reached the Northern California Division II final last year.

“Life is different; we have a new coach and new players,” said Walker, who has scored four goals in her second season as a starting forward. “It’s really different, but we’ve gotten used to playing with a new squad.”

Those adjustments include playing without Allie Montoya, who as a freshman last year scored a team-high 20 goals and verbally committed to Stanford University.

“I talked with her, and she expressed a desire for rest and to train with her club,” Panos said of Montoya, a student in one of his science classes. “I left the door open for her to return, and she may play again at some point.”

In her absence, the Spartans struggled to score the first half of the season – shut out in four of their first 10 games – but “the goals are starting to come,” Panos said. Mountain View produced 19 goals over its next seven matches.

Maru Lasala has a team-best 11 goals – one more than fellow junior Sistine Noel.

“Maru has been fantastic,” Panos said of the forward. “She’s everywhere on field.”

Noel – an attacking midfielder who has already committed to Santa Clara University – ‘is our best overall player,” the coach said. “She’s amazing.”

Forward and co-captain Janvi Subramanyan’s six goals ranks third on the team.

“She’s been fantastic from a leadership standout point and on the soccer field,” Panos said. “And our other captain, Erin Coyne, is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet but plays an aggressive brand of soccer.”

Coyne, a junior defender, anchors a unit that has allowed just 17 goals and has four shutouts. Those numbers are more impressive when considering that the team has employed six goalies this season.

“It’s been goalkeeper by committee due to injuries,” the coach said.

Returning starter Sophia Sasaki, a sophomore, is out for the season with a jaw injury sustained in practice last month, and three others have been dealing with what Panos described as “nagging injuries.” That led the coach to bring up two goalies from JV: junior Eliana Katz and freshman Klara Hellquist.

“Eliana has been great, and Clara has also been a great addition,” Panos said.

With the playoffs starting Saturday, Walker knows defense will play a major role in how far the Spartans advance.

“We have to focus on defense – we have really good defenders – and switching the ball more (on offense),” she said.

Mountain View’s league finale is scheduled 3:30 p.m. Feb. 19 against visiting Homestead.

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