If championships and consistency are the hallmarks for greatness, the Los Gatos High field hockey team can lay claim as being the best sports team—fall, winter or spring—in the entire Central Coast Section.
The Wildcats won their 17th—count ’em, 17th—CCS title after a 1-0 win over St. Ignatius in the championship match on Nov. 11 at Valley Christian High. All of Los Gatos’ 17 titles have come in the last 32 years, and their 17-0-2 finish was the eighth time it has completed an undefeated season.
The victory was historic on many fronts. Henry Reyes, who just completed his 32nd season as the Los Gatos head coach—his first season with the club was in 1992, 15 years before all of the players on this year’s team was born, give or take—now has a record of 501-65-34.
The Wildcats won their first CCS title in 1993, Reyes’ second at the helm. When asked to describe what it was like to coach the team to title No. 17, Reyes said this year’s championship was one of the most fulfilling.
“Oh, I got to be really honest with you, this one will make me cry later just like No. 1 did, because it’s an emotional thing,” he said. “You interact and bond with the kids, and we want them to do what I believe they could do. When I started off the season, I knew that we could be a contender. But as we got to the midpoint [of the season], I felt more comfortable that there would be no reason why—unless we were our own enemy and the author of our own demise—would we give it away. And the kids played great and I’m so proud of them, so proud of them.”
Outside of the first quarter, top-seed Los Gatos outplayed No. 2 seed St. Ignatius and had superior possession time the rest of the way. Los Gatos was 0-for-11 on short corners, but the 12th time proved to be the charm. That’s when senior Aanya Gupta unloaded a shot from just inside the top of the circle to the goal which was inundated with players from both sides.
Leaya Cleary displayed her Midas touch stick skills by deflecting the ball in for the only score of the game with 8 minutes, 55 seconds remaining.
“She started to hit it and I wanted to make sure the goalie couldn’t stop it,” Cleary said, “because the goalie was right behind me. It was crazy. It took a long time but we got it in.”
Gupta knew the team was knocking on the doorstep and felt it was a matter of time before it scored.
“I feel like we were always right there,” she said. “In the circle, we’re there. Sometimes you just need the mentality that this is ours, this is ours. … It’s really incredible because everyone works together to the goal.”
Los Gatos shook off a shaky opening quarter, which Reyes attributed to nerves. Both sides initiated the action in the second quarter, but Los Gatos was clearly in command in the second half. It controlled the play and the ground balls, the facet of field hockey where games are often won or lost.
Players like the aforementioned Cleary, Gupta, Ellie White, Alexa Musser, Macy Dennon, Caitlin Okonkwo, Clare Torres, Juliette Vrijen and Keira Lin have been stalwarts throughout the season.
Musser and White are physical players and key in the team’s possession-control game. Los Gatos didn’t make it easy on itself in the end. Due to penalties, Los Gatos was actually down two players with 3:05 left to play.
“We lost a couple of people at the end so we had to regroup, but I think those kids that were left on the field did admirably,” Reyes said. “Hey, fight like crazy. Honestly, it could’ve gone either way. We had a few more chances I thought, but even which way if you don’t capitalize it’s a 0-0 game. It [the penalties] was timely, it worked out, it favored [us and] the clock to only be a few minutes left and we did the best we could.”
SI had some prime scoring opportunities early, producing four short corners in the first period alone. Despite putting some potent shots on goal, SI couldn’t find the cage which turned out to be its best chances of the game.
Los Gatos also squandered several golden scoring opportunities, at times producing a flurry of shots in front of the SI goal only to be denied. Cleary had a one-on-one situation with the SI goalie late in the first and Gupta had a shot that went just wide in the second. But those two players kept on attacking and combined for the game-winner, helping send Los Gatos into championship glory.