NBL BOYS SOCCER: Vikings, Pumas lead the way

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

High levels of play should make North Bay League boys soccer very competitive this season led by a handful of returning All-Empire standouts.

Going into league play, the favorites are Montgomery — loaded with top players — and Maria Carrillo — a very organized squad.

Ukiah leads the rest with Santa Rosa and Rancho Cotate improving. Cardinal Newman, Piner and Elsie Allen all have quality players on their rosters.

The teams are vying for North Coast Section playoff spots. The NBL often gets four teams in and five is possible, coaches said. “The league is very competitive, especially for those playoff spots,” said Santa Rosa High rookie head coach Antonio Garcia.

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MONTGOMERY
With returning All-Empire player of the year Diego Lopez and All-Empire midfielder Keenan Whyte, the Vikings have the talent to defend Montgomery’s NCS title. Jose Gutierrez adds depth to the midfield.
Montgomery worked to improve on defense early in the season. Jonah Wayte and Tanner Pierce anchor the backs with newcomer Julio Chavez.
“The emphasis coming into the season was shoring up the defense,” said first-year Montgomery coach Jon Schwan. “When I look at building a team I want to make sure we have a defense that keeps us in games.”
Montgomery won’t go undefeated in league play as a year ago having lost at Ukiah.
“It’s never easy in this league,” Schwan said.

MARIA CARRILLO
A quartet of longtime starters makes the Pumas strong across the field. All-Empire midfielder James Moberg and striker Cody Keating lead the scoring with forward Diego Davila often assisting.
“We try to be aggressive,” said Maria Carrillo coach Mike Mastin. “You may give up goals, but we’d rather score as many goals as possible than grind out games.”
Dantae Garcia centers the defense. First-year starters Cesar Farias in the midfield and goalkeeper Erik Nunn add depth to the starting unit.
Again this season, what works well for Maria Carrillo is spreading out on the field for long ball possessions and more scoring opportunities.

UKIAH
The best of the rest could be Ukiah.
Leading the Wildcats are returning all-league players Osvaldo Segura in the midfield and Clark Walker at forward. Both midfielder Alberto Cuevas and forward Juan Carrera add to the scoring punch.
So far Ukiah’s defense also has been solid. Jorge Dominguez centers the backs and Victor Hernandez is back at goalkeeper.
“They can compete against anyone. They’re smart players,” said Ukiah coach Rogelio Alvarado.
What the Wildcats are working on is making more of goal scoring chances.
“We start from the back really good and we possess the ball in the middle really good. We need to penetrate and finish better,” Alvarado said.

SANTA ROSA
Youth is served with the Panthers, who only return a pair of starters from last season’s very talented team.
But those two — midfielder Israel Silva and striker Gerardo Suarez — are standouts. They lead a squad that is improving at ball possession and scoring as rookie head coach Antonio Garcia mixes in a number of players from last year’s strong junior varsity.
“We look to build our attack and take advantage of other teams’ weaknesses,” Garcia said. “We’re able to defend pretty well. It definitely helps us stay competitive.”
The biggest challenge for the young Santa Rosa team is handling the ups and downs of a season featuring many tight contests.

CARDINAL NEWMAN
Defense has been the Cardinals strength with All-Empire goalkeeper Keller Lawson back between the posts and all-league player Kevin McGowan anchoring the back line.
After a tough early season slate, Cardinal Newman is finding more rhythm on offense and holding onto the ball better.
“Our goal is wanting to win balls and being aggressive in getting the ball forward,” said new Cardinal Newman coach Alan Ramos. “We’d like to be a possession team. We’re getting there.”
Returning starters Kyle McKeever in the midfield Dylan Hamilton and Matt Gibson on top and Steve Anaya in the backfield give the Cardinals very good depth.
“We’ve had guys pushing for minutes. Playing time builds confidence in some of the younger guys,” Ramos said.

RANCHO COTATE
Skilled and hard working, Rancho Cotate is gaining confidence with league play underway.
Returning starters Joey Jefferson on top and Roy Botang at center midfielder and newcomer Michael Tufolo can play with anyone in the league.
Defense is where Rancho Cotate is tightening up with a goalkeeper platoon and two defenders playing new positions.
“They all need to become defenders. We need skillful players to play in both directions,” said Rancho Cotate coach Eamon Kelly. “We’re hoping to get things rolling by the second half of the season.”

ELSIE ALLEN
With six starters back in the midfield and on defense, Elsie Allen can be a difficult opponent.
Making things happen in the midfield are Jorge Alvarez, Chris Huerta and Ramiro Giron. Anchoring the defense are goalkeeper Salvador Cortez and backs Hector Iturbe and Ernesto Beltran.
The Lobos are working on finishing runs with good shots on goal.
“The defense has been strong as well as the goal keeping and the pressure from the front line has been constant and dominating at times. But the Lobos have been unlucky in the goal department,’” said Elsie Allen assistant Gabriel Albavera. “Our possession of the ball has to be the key to the Lobos success.”

PINER
First-year coach Nathan Kinser is getting Piner in shape to give league foes a run.
Back for the Prospectors are Miguel Galvin, Eloy Vega and Armando Dominguez in the midfield, Brendon Ballinas on the back line, and Alex Gonzalez at forward.
“This year we are finishing the ball, possessing well and are working on strengthening our defense along with connecting our off-the ball runs,” Kinser said. “We just need to be strong mentally where everybody does their job on the field and covers the guy next to him.”
With teams coming into form in league play, Piner’s goal is to compete for a section playoff berth.“It’s going to be a tight race and I think every school has got a shot at making playoffs,” Kinser said.