When a high school sports team struggles in the win-loss column, often times it has as much to do with a dearth of talent as it does a lack of chemistry. Perhaps it was the latter a year ago with the Sobrato High girls soccer team, which finished 5-10-4 overall and 5-7-2 in the Blossom Valley League’s Mount Hamilton Division. With several senior starters graduating, the league coaches voted to move the Bulldogs to the BVAL’s B division, the Santa Teresa, for this season. Whatever happens record-wise the rest of the way, the Sobrato players and coaches plan on keeping the vibe and chemistry on the team intact.
“I feel like last year we really struggled with finding the right chemistry on and off field, but this year I feel we have found a great balance when it comes to focusing,” said Hannah Pfefferlen, a senior midfielder who played every game last season, showcasing her durability. “But we’ve been keeping it light hearted as well. Having the right balance helps remind everyone why we’re all here, because we love the sport and want to play with each other.”
Hailey Freeman, a junior midfielder, said the energy on the team is different and that makes her optimistic for the season.
“I love this team,” Freeman said. “Our coaches keep telling us we have something special, and we really believe them. We have a great group of girls, and I’ve really been impressed with everyone. Each person has a list of things they bring to a team, whether it’s a positive attitude, skill, or speed. We’re looking to make a good run this year.”
Bulldogs coach Miguel Gutierrez said Freeman has attracted interest from four-year programs, not a surprise considering her indefatigable work ethic.
“Hailey’s work ethic is unbelievable,” said Gutierrez, who coached Sobrato’s junior varsity team last season. “No words can describe her work ethic. She is one of our leaders and captains on the field.”
The Bulldogs have a new goalie in sophomore Kiersta Gurney, who served as the backup last season. Although Gutierrez said Gurney has big shoes to fill, he is confident Gurney is up to the task. Sobrato has some top-notch defenders in junior Karina Von Almen, sophomore Kaila Sheldon and sophomore Sydney Mudrak.
“Karina has a tremendous work ethic and takes a leadership role in the back,” Gutierrez said. “She’s our sweeper and right defender. Kaila is our center back, knows the game well and has a big soccer IQ. On the left side we have Sydney, who didn’t see much playing time last year (but has grown in her game this season).”
When it comes to the midfield, Gutierrez said watch out for super sophomore Greenlee Kauinana, who possesses tremendous vision, patience and an ability to control the game. Kauinana plays for Mountain View Los Altos (MVLA), one of the top soccer clubs on the West Coast.
“Greenlee is a phenomenal player,” Gutierrez said. “She’s one of the best defensive midfielders in the CCS, maybe in California. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player like her. She is very composed and there is going to be an opportunity for her to play in the future (at the college level) for sure.”
Ailonnie Lorenzana, a junior midfielder, is quick on the ball, plays physical and can be counted upon to give a maximum effort for the full 80 minutes. Freshman Tea Reyes has proven to be a stalwart up top, and her strength on the ball and confidence are some of her biggest attributes. Another freshman, Chloe Gallipeo, has impressed Gutierrez with her playmaking ability.
“Chloe is very fast on the ball, a distributer and can play with both feet,” he said. “She’s like a little (Lionel) Messi, in that she gets through gaps and makes things happen.”
Senior Kiana Ton plays alongside the two freshmen as a forward, proving to be a nice comeback story after taking two years off to recover from a severe injury. Gutierrez said Ton has been a fantastic addition to the team, noting the squad’s blend of youth and experience.
“We have five freshmen on the varsity, and they’re very competitive,” Gutierrez said. “It’s great to have them on the team. It makes our team more unique because we have a great sophomore and junior class as well. Our seniors are our leaders and have been a great example to the younger players.”
The Bulldogs utilize a 3-4-3 formation, and Gutierrez has been satisfied with the players’ ability to move the ball, keep the possession and being relatively stingy on defense. The midfielders are adept at keeping the ball on the ground with fine footwork and pinpoint passing, with Freeman playing a key role on the team maintaining the possession.
“Hailey is a utility player because she can play any position and she’ll do great at it,” Gutierrez said. “She’s one of our strongest players and won’t let you down.”
Neither will Pfefferlen, who as a center midfielder sees the field well, delivers terrific through balls and has the ability to stay calm in heightened situations. Pfefferlen loves the positive energy around the team, something she projects daily.
“I feel one of my strengths is staying positive even when times are tough,” she said. “I think as a team we’re much better at staying positive. Before some people didn’t take losses well, but now we use it as a learning experience. Instead of being an individual in our ways, we try to fix things as a team going forward.”
Even in a 4-0 loss to crosstown rival Live Oak High on Dec. 18, Pfefferlen felt proud of the team for coming together and giving it their all.
“It hurt a lot, but I was really proud of how hard we played,” she said. “We weren’t too down about it because we felt happy in the way we played, even though we didn’t get the outcome we wanted.”
In addition to being a standout player, Pfefferlen excels in the classroom as well. She has a cumulative 4.4 GPA and hasn’t earned a B yet in high school—and she intends on keeping it that way. Freeman also takes pride in earning A’s, as she has a 4.2 GPA. Her growth as a player this season has been nothing short of spectacular.
“I’ve come a long way in my game,” Freeman said. “As a freshman, I was two steps behind. As a sophomore, I was one step behind. Now as a junior, I feel like I’m two steps ahead (of the game/play). I’ve learned the pace of play, and I’m always looking for that next pass to give a better opportunity for someone else to score or make a pass.”
Freeman produced a highlight-reel goal last year when she scored from around 40 yards out, a perfectly placed shot that the Santa Teresa goalkeeper had no chance on. Not a bad way to score her first-ever varsity goal. The best part about the shot? It accounted for the only goal of the game in a Sobrato victory. Since the odds of scoring from 40 yards out are pretty low, Freeman’s mentality was to place a ball inside the 18-yard box, where one of her teammates could play it.
“It was, ‘OK, just serve the ball in and hopefully something good happens,'” she said. “I shot it and for sure thought it was going out, so I jumped around as I was mad at myself. I went the other way and when I turned back around, the whole team was running after me. I look up and the ball is in the back of the net. I couldn’t believe it.”
Freeman loves the makeup of this year’s squad, and feels it’s on the cusp of something special.
“This team is quite talented,” she said. “Last year we had a good group of girls, but this year is different. There’s a different perspective, a different energy and everything is different in a good way.”
As one of only four seniors on the team, Pfefferlen knows she plays a vital role in terms of a leadership standpoint.
“I think it’s been helpful that all four of us (seniors) have played on the team all four years,” Pfefferlen said. “So we’ve learned the dynamics of what Sobrato soccer is about, and that’s made it easier to be a good leader because we have the experience of coming in through the program. We want to make the transition for the younger girls as smooth as possible.”