When the Los Gatos and Hollister field hockey teams played their season-opener on Aug. 31, it represented a matchup between an up-and-coming program in Hollister against the Central Coast Section’s gold standard in Los Gatos.
The host Wildcats, winners of an astounding 17 CCS championships, showed why in a 3-0 non-league victory over the Haybalers. Dominating the possession from start to finish, Los Gatos scored two first quarter goals and never relented.
“Our strength is defense but the offense keeps the ball over there [on the opposing team’s end],” Wildcats coach Henry Reyes said. “There are people who are possessing the ball, losing it but fighting back to get it. The defense comes up for containment.”
Juliette Vrijen, Ella Rabitz and Leaya Cleary had goals for Los Gatos, which subbed liberally as 58 different players saw action, a testament to its deep and talented roster. The Wildcats are coming off a season in which they won another league championship but fell in the semifinals of the CCS tournament.
Meanwhile, Hollister is coming off a historic 2022 campaign that included winning the Pacific Coast Athletic League title for the first time in program history, earning it a playoff berth. The Haybalers graduated 22 seniors off that team and usually when that happens, a slip in performance is expected. Not so fast, according to coach Molly Macierz Svihus.
“I kind of thought it was going to be a rebuilding year, but no, we’re good,” she said. “Our returning seniors came back with an extra year of experience and we have a really strong junior class. We’ve got strong, competitive players.”
Junior Olivia Harris backstopped Hollister in goal, producing a couple of tremendous kick saves in the second half. She was helped in the back by Layla Borges and Kyla Hignel, as the two combined to clear multiple Los Gatos scoring threats in the third and fourth quarter.
Svihus said the team will rely on players such as rising sophomore left forward Teegan Castill, Olivia Damm, Kendra Lerma and Sydney Stacy to provide the offensive scoring punch. It’s worth noting that all but one of those players—Castill—were inactive for the game.
Returning junior starter Morgen Ortiz possesses an all-around game and has been a stalwart for Hollister since she was a freshman. Izel Prieto and Piper Pierson are also returning standouts. Svihus said even though Los Gatos got the better run of the play, she was proud of her team’s effort.
“They had a great game today, they always exceed my expectations, they’re smart out there and they connect and pass, and we had phenomenal defense,” she said.
Reyes also liked his team’s performance, especially considering it was the first game of the season where the team is far from a finished product.
“There were moments when you go, ‘Oh, that’s really good,’ and then some you go, ‘That’s silly,’” Reyes said. “But we can do better and we can work on that.”
With arguably the best roster in the CCS, Los Gatos is primed for another terrific season. Alexa Musser is a physical force on the offensive side, along with Aanya Gupta and Cleary, a sophomore who is poised for a breakout season.
“Cleary was a freshman last year but is from the Netherlands, so she came already with a little bit of foundation underneath her,” Reyes said. “[Her game] looked very nice.”
And opponents dare not sleep on Ellie White, who provides support from the defense to the attacking line. Reyes noted the team’s chemistry and balanced play at every position, led by the likes of Mckenzie Powell, Caitlin Okonkwo and Macy Dennon.
“We’ve got a lot of good talent so we’re excited about that,” he said. “Every game you should be trying to progress and develop. You can’t play from fear, then fear already wins. Whereas if you can progress every time and say, ‘Man, I love this game because everything that presents itself is unique,’ OK, let’s do that and that’s what these kids are trying to do.”
Los Gatos is in the great position of being a field hockey hotbed. There were 70 players in the program last year and the numbers are similar this season. That means there are dozens of players every year who are waiting their turn to make an impact.
“There were younger kids last year already waiting to play just like there are kids waiting now,” Reyes said, pointing to the school’s large junior varsity team which followed the varsity match. “I mean, that’s the JV team right there so just take a look at that. It’s a good position to be in.”