Sobrato High midfielder Phi Nguyen has been dynamite this season in helping lead the team to a BVAL West Valley Division championship. Photo by Bryant Hammer.

The Sobrato High boys soccer team knew from the beginning of the season it had the talent to put together a special season. 

And that’s exactly what the Bulldogs did, clinching an outright Blossom Valley League West Valley Division championship and earning their first Central Coast Section playoff berth in nearly a decade. 

Sobrato (18-1-1) earned the No. 5 seed and plays at No. 4 Sacred Heart Prep (11-5-2) in a Division III quarterfinal Saturday at 3pm. 

“I hope we play smart and play physical because I want my last game to be a win,” said Christian Grave, the outstanding senior striker who has scored 15 goals to go along with nine assists. “We don’t want to go out too early and hopefully we can go the whole way. We’re super excited to be playing CCS for the first time and it should be a fun experience no matter what.”

Sobrato ended up running away with the West Valley Division title, totaling 39 points to easily outdistance Gunderson and James Lick, who both finished with 31 points. It was Gunderson that dealt the Bulldogs their only loss of the season in rather emphatic fashion, 5-1 on Feb. 3.

However, Sobrato rebounded from that defeat with three straight wins to close out the regular season, outscoring their opponents by a combined margin of 11-4. Even though the Bulldogs played in a C league this season, they also own wins over upper level teams such as Willow Glen (champions of the BVAL Santa Teresa Division), Overfelt (third in the Santa Teresa) and Hillsdale of San Mateo, the co-champions of the B-league Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division and top seed in the Division III field. 

Sobrato’s lone tie came against PAL Ocean Division co-champ South San Francisco, meaning the Bulldogs went 3-0-1 against B-league competition this season. 

“So we’ve been having a really good season and it’s really refreshing to be surrounded by so many good players,” said Grave, who carries a 4.4 GPA. 

Grave has been a prolific goal scorer along with Paolo Mancera (16 goals,12 assists) and Jose Gomero (13 goals, five assists). All three can score on a moment’s notice, and they do it in different ways. 

“Paolo sometimes plays striker along with me when we go two up top, and he also plays winger and is phenomenal at both positions,” Grave said. “He’s very skillful, thoughtful, always keeps his head up with the ball and I can always count on him to play me a good ball or for me to play him a good ball. They have a very good future with Paolo on the team.” 

Midfielder Phi Nyuyen has seven goals and is the rare player who has the ability to completely dominate a game without scoring because he can possess the ball and distribute which leads to time of possession. 

“Phi is a big part of our team and whenever he gets the ball, it’s like magic on his feet,” Grave said. “He’s had a really good season and helps keep our midfield together. He makes really big plays for us, is a really nice guy and an overall team player.” 

Grave and center back Kyle Chimienti are captains and happen to be cousins. They grew up playing together for various organizations including Orchard Valley, Bay Area Barcelona and youth Earthquakes teams. Grave has emerged as one of the leaders of the team, a role he has come to cherish. 

He’s provided plenty of leadership by example, routinely running hard and playing physical. Grave looks bigger than his 150-pound frame, partly because he’s so strong with the ball and possesses the ability to blow by his defender on a moment’s notice. He’s particularly dangerous on the outside where he can make long runs and put pressure on opponents. 

“I like the ball down the line in space a lot, and I feel like the team recognizes that and plays those balls for me,” he said. “I feel like I play a physical and fast game, and I like to change directions and speed so I don’t become too predictable out there.”

Even though soccer has always been Grave’s favorite sport, he absolutely loved his first and only year of playing football this past season as the Sobrato kicker. He was consistent with his point-after attempts and showed good range with some field goal attempts. 

“Playing on the football team was awesome,” he said. “All the guys on the team welcomed me like family. It was a new experience for me because I never kicked before for a football team and I did it because I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. And I honestly wish now I did that earlier in my high school career. Although it was a very different experience from soccer, I enjoyed both equally and feel blessed to be surrounded by such great players and teams.”

Boys basketball

When the Bulldogs lost to Santa Teresa High for the second time in as many league matchups on Feb. 4, it looked all but certain its title hopes were gone. 

After all, Santa Teresa only had one loss and was heavily favored to win the remainder of its contests. Not so fast. With a little help from its friendly crosstown rivals, Live Oak High, the Bulldogs earned a share of the Blossom Valley League Santa Teresa East Division championship. 

Four days after Sobrato lost to Santa Teresa, the Acorns defeated the Saints—sweeping the season series—setting the stage for the Bulldogs to possibly win out and finish 8-2 in division play with Santa Teresa. The only team left standing in the way of that happening?

You guessed it, Live Oak. Of course it had to be that way. The Bulldogs (16-6) did their part, defeating the Acorns 65-53 in the league finale on Feb. 11, clinching their first title since the 2016-2017 season. That was Sean Tate’s first season as the head coach, and five years later title No. 2 was just as sweet. 

“Going into the Live Oak game, we knew if we won, we’d be league champs,” Tate said. “And the guys went out and did it. They went out and took care of business. It was fun after the game because all these guys are friends and grew up together and they just want to be around each other.”

The Bulldogs earned the No. 6 seed in the Central Coast Section Division III playoffs and will host the winner of Soledad-Prospect in a second-round game on Saturday at 7pm. Meanwhile, Live Oak (10-12) has an opening-round game at No. 12 South San Francisco (12-12) on Friday. 

In the team’s penultimate league game on Feb. 9, the visiting Bulldogs held off a tough Oak Grove squad, 59-57. In the final minute, sophomore Trey Miller hit the front end of a 1-and-1 before Oak Grove committed a turnover, sealing a Sobrato win. 

Two days later, the Bulldogs played in front of another packed gym at Live Oak and thrived. 

“The last two games we played, mentally in our minds, those were playoff games,” Tate said. “That was our mentality. They were great games to set us up for CCS. Those two places were rocking.”

Jayden Fowler had 18 points against Oak Grove and 28 against Live Oak, showing why he’s become one of the best players in the BVAL. Fowler has a nice set shot—which is a great skill to have and is rarely utilized in today’s game—allowing him to get shots off quickly and against taller players. 

As has been the case all season, the Bulldogs received contributions from across the board in the final two regular-season games. Ethan Marmie had 14 points against Oak Grove, Marc Difrancesco had nine points apiece in both contests and Michael Chambers had 10 points and 10 rebounds in the Live Oak game. 

In that same contest, Chambers suffered a broken nose.

“He’s a trooper,” Tate said. “Dr. Taylor got him ready to go, got cotton in his nose and he went out there and finished the game. Marc has been Mr. Consistent and giving us six rebounds a game, and Jayden is shooting in rhythm which is always great to see.”

After missing a couple of games due to Covid protocols near the halfway point in the league season, point guard Andrew Zorio has come back strong and done a nice job of facilitating and getting the team into its offense. Tate has thoroughly enjoyed coaching this year’s group. 

“These guys have done a great job and they work hard,” he said. “They’re good kids and they like playing for each other, and that’s what makes coaching this team great. The best part about this is once they move on in life and then come back into the gym, they’ll always see that championship banner.”

Other local CCS matchups


Girls Basketball

Division III: Sobrato (13-8) at No. 12 Jefferson (15-8), 7 p.m.


Girls Soccer

Division II: No. 7 Menlo School (10-5-4) at No. 2 Live Oak (14-5-1), 11 a.m.

Bulldogs striker Christian Grave has 15 goals and nine assists this season. Photo by Bryant Hammer.
Jayden Fowler has emerged as one of the best players in the entire BVAL this season. File photo.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]

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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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