It took all of one game for the Los Gatos High girls soccer team to realize the 2022-2023 campaign would be far different than last season.
That’s because the Wildcats beat Mountain View 4-2 in the season-opener on Nov. 29, a monumental result given the fact the Spartans have been one of the best teams in the Central Coast Section for the last several years.
The Wildcats know that from firsthand experience. Last season, they lost to Mountain View three times—2-0 in a tournament and 5-0 and 7-3 in two league matches. So, beating the Spartans rather convincingly—even though it was at the very beginning of the season—did wonders for the Wildcats’ outlook.
“We got killed by Mountain View last year and to beat them 4-2, we went into that game and had no idea what to expect,” Los Gatos junior midfielder Caitlyn Simons said. “We knew we were good, but we also knew the other team was good as well. It was just a massive team effort and to come out with a win after that game, we realized we can beat anyone if we try our best.”
And the Wildcats have been doing just that as they entered the week 7-2-2 overall and 4-0-1 and in a virtual first-place tie with Wilcox in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League’s El Camino Division. Simons, a UC Santa Barbara-commit, plays a vital role as the attacking midfielder.
She said the success of the team is in its balance, with talent at every position. In senior Malia Yamamoto, who has committed to Santa Clara University, the Wildcats have two Division I commits on their roster.
Yamamoto didn’t play for Los Gatos in her first three years at the school due to club commitments, so her playmaking abilities have been a welcome addition to the team.
“Malia started playing this year which has been great,” Simons said. “We’ve got some good freshmen on the team this year like Cora Bryant, and a lot of girls from the junior varsity last year that are playing key roles [on the varsity] team this season.”
In addition to increased numbers and talent, the team’s cohesiveness has improved as well.
“We had team chemistry last year, but this year our team loves being together and just hanging out,” Simons said. “And we’re always pushing each other to get better but at the same time having a lot of fun as well. And we’ve improved because of it.”
Although all players love scoring, Simons said her greatest enjoyment from an individual standpoint has been her distribution of the ball. Simons’ pinpoint passes have set up several of her teammates to score goals.
“I’ve gotten a lot of assists, and that’s been really fun seeing my teammates score,” she said. “It’s always in the back of my mind and something I’m always working on.”
Simons trains and plays year-round with Los Gatos and for the De Anza Force during the long club season. Though Simons strives to improve in every phase of the game, she focuses heavily on a couple of different aspects.
“Definitely two things I really want to get down is my shooting and keeping my fitness and agility up to speed,” she said.
Growing up with two older brothers who both graduated from Los Gatos and played sports—Sam currently plays club rugby at UC Santa Barbara and Jacob is attending Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo—accelerated Simons’ physical development and mental toughness.
“Definitely, because my brothers were very tough on me,” she said. “They didn’t take it easy.”
Simons’ recruitment and commitment to UCSB was rather meteoric. That’s because the summer before a student-athlete’s junior year is when things start to ramp up. June 15 is the date when college coaches can start directly contacting prospective recruits via phone, email or text messaging.
The UCSB coaches watched Simons play at the San Diego Surf Cup in late July and a couple of ECNL showcase tournaments during that same period. After taking part in an invite-only camp and unofficial visit to the college, where the UCSB coaches and Simons got to evaluate each other, Simons received an offer in early September and committed shortly thereafter.
“It was really an easy decision because it’s the perfect college for me,” she said. “I love the coaches, I love the way the team plays, and after visiting the school I thought to myself, ‘this is amazing.’ The assistant coach told me once you step on a campus, if you know this is the school you want to go to, you just know. And once I stepped on campus, I just knew.”
And that’s why Simons didn’t bother about keeping her recruiting options open going forward.
“Initially, I was really planning on taking a long time for recruiting,” she said. “I had calls with other schools and always told them I want to take my time and want to keep my options open. But Santa Barbara was the school I really wanted to go to for women’s soccer. That’s why when they reached out to me, I didn’t want to wait around because this is the school I would be happiest at.”