Before the season started, Scotts Valley High School’s Naiya Samios believed playing through a difficult preseason could easily ruin her confidence level from the start.
At one point, the outstanding midfielder/forward and team captain asked the coaching staff if the season opener against Haaker should be rescheduled.
Harker, winners of the 2021-22 West Bay Athletic League, defeated the Falcons 4-0 in a non-league game on November 29.
“I didn’t want to be demoralized in the first match,” Samios said. “I lost, but I gained confidence.”
Samios bounced back the next day with a goal to lead Scotts Valley to a 3–0 non-league win against North Monterey County.
The Falcons (2-3-2) lost to both Piedmont Hills and Terra Nova before drawing to Westmont during the tournament at the Firebird Classic at Fremont High.
Samios was eager to return to the pitch after a long break following his club season with the Santa Cruz Breakers. She’s currently on winter break from school, but she wants to get started so she can start playing for the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League.
“I’m excited to get the ball up and see what we can do with it and what all the young players can do,” Samios said.
Scotts Valley went 6-9-1 last season, finishing third in the league with a 5-5 record.
It’s been 11 years since they won the SCCAL Championship and 15 years since they won the Central Coast Section III title in 2007-08.
Their last postseason appearance was a 4–0 loss to Christopher in the D-III quarterfinals of the shortened Spring 2022 season.
This year’s Falcons cast is a small group of three seniors and three juniors. The rest of the roster consists of a sophomore and her freshman.
Scotts Valley coach Taylor Raymond wanted to give the young team a little challenge before heading into a demanding league schedule next week.
After going to the weight room, playing against the JV team, and practicing over the winter break, she realized the players were fully committed.
With three goals to lead the team in, Samios is in his fourth year with the national team and knows what it takes to commit to the programme.
“It’s an unthinkable amount of power out there,” said Raymond. “Her ball control is great and she really helps the team.”
Samios is feeling more confident after a challenging preseason, especially after seeing the efforts of such a young team.
“It’s cool to see the energy and excitement that we have,” she said. “You can really see it when we’re playing.”
Senior center defender and team captain Alex Tevis is a player who feels more comfortable with his teammates clearing the ball out of the zone on the back line.
Then there’s sophomore outside wing Skylar Dufour, who has seen the most improvement since last year.
“[Dufour’s] I kept running, trying to steal the ball, trying to score goals,” Samios said.
Dufour has scored multiple goals this season. Raymond can find out that outstanding young speedsters are practicing in their spare time.
“[Dufour’s] I feel more comfortable on the field and can play against higher level teams,” Raymond said.
Another big challenge for these youngsters is their overall lack of experience with the high-level teams on the hills of San Jose, and even those in Santa Cruz County.
Maintaining high levels of trust is also part of the hard work, Raymond says. She knows her skill levels are there, but it’s all about working together as a team and not losing out when the game goes wrong.
Bridging the gap between the mass of freshmen and seniors can be difficult. Still, the confidence level is growing, and the team’s bond with this particular group is getting stronger.
“If they build confidence throughout the season and are happy to play every game, that’s all I’m looking for this season,” Raymond said.
Samios remembers making mistakes as a freshman.
However, this year’s group became a tight-knit team. On Fridays, they bond by doing team workouts, playing practice games with the men’s team, and going out for recreational activities such as watching movies.
Samios believes they are having fun despite the big age difference.
“Their work is paying off and you can see they’re all doing better,” she said.
Samios said the preseason portion of the schedule was a good warm-up for what would be a competitive SCCAL with his teammates from the Santa Cruz Breakers Club team.
Samios is also excited about the opportunity to face Santa Cruz and Aptos after both sides suffered major turnovers.
“It’s kind of weird,” she said. “It’s fun, but it’s a little competitive.”
Last year, former Santa Cruz standout player and close friend Julia Moore gave her best after Moore stopped in midfield and scored past Samios.
“Of course it was against me, but I have to congratulate them after the game. It’s always fun to talk to them,” Samios said.
Aptos (4-3-1) Santa Cruz (6-1-0) and Soquel (3-3) are strong contenders for the league crown. But there’s also the return of Harbor (6-4) and San Lorenzo Valley (1-4-1).
Raymond added that having two matches against each league’s opponents gives the young team a great exposure to other challenges that may come in the future.
“It’s always a tough game, but it’s rewarding when you’re done,” says Raymond.
Cougars aim for a cultural reset
The San Lorenzo Valley High School women’s soccer team has been less successful in terms of wins and losses over the past few years.
They went 1-14-1 overall and 0-9-1 in SCCAL play in 2021-22.
Kim Petersen, the Cougars’ second-year coach, recognizes that building a competitive program within SCCAL will be a long process.
But the players have put in a lot of effort in the preseason and offseason and have already surpassed last year’s standards.
“We’re going to be underdogs again this year, but I think we’re laying a strong foundation for the future,” Petersen said.
The Cougars don’t have club football players like teams like Aptos and Santa Cruz.
Still, their skills are improving and players are starting to understand the system coaches want them to play in, Petersen said.
“It will continue to be a work in progress,” she said.
Petersen said the football process is slow. For her, her biggest challenge is getting players to understand what it means to play authentic football in her programme, and resetting the culture.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the players to come to terms with the process and understand the level of commitment required to play for the national team.
“We are heading in the right direction,” Petersen said.
Petersen said one of the things to watch is how SCCAL has changed the way games are scheduled this year.
Previously, the women’s teams of the JV and national team hosted matches while the men’s teams played on the road trip.
This year, the league decided to unify basketball and soccer games. JV games are on Mondays and Wednesdays, and national team games are on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Petersen said it was problematic because it meant that the grass field could only be used for practice on Thursdays.
“It’s pretty awkward for all football in our area, especially with the lack of lighting,” she said.
The last time the Cougars finished with a .500-plus record was 8-8-3 in 2018-19.
The last time SLV had a winning record was in 2006-07, when Chelsea Schwertfeger led 9-9-3 overall and went 7-3-2 in SCCAL play.
It was also the last time SLV made it to the playoffs in the Central Coast section, losing to San Jose’s Del Mar in the first round of Division II.
Seniors Gianna Schwarzbach and Katie Weisz, as well as junior Jochi Kirkner, represent what a team’s captaincy means on and off the pitch.
The Cougar trio are strong role models for following a set of values: dedication, hard work, teamwork, and positivity. They have also been instrumental in helping Petersen reset the culture.
“It’s not just coming from coaches, it’s coming from peers,” she said.
The Cougars are led by eight juniors and four sophomores: Betsy Edwards, Naomi Sifton, Jessica Stoelting and Ruby Nuns.
Petersen said the youth group has immediately helped change the program and will continue to be the backbone. A major part of that is the leadership of some seniors.
“We’re just going to be able to build on that,” she said.