One team has held the title for the last four years, the other has the likes of one of the most dominant players in the Redwood Empire.
When it comes to the North Bay League and the girls’ soccer title, the battle between Maria Carrillo and Montgomery could be one for the ages.
The Pumas have dominated the NBL and the entire North Coast Section for the past four years. They are led by head coach Debra LaPrath and All-American senior forward Maddy Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, a two-time All-Empire Player of the Year who was named to the TopDrawerSoccer.com Fall All-America girls soccer team, has led the Pumas to a 60-0-2 overall record in her three seasons in a Maria Carrillo jersey. Her senior year will be the ultimate cap to a remarkably successful high school career.
The Pumas won’t find their quest any easier this year, as last season’s NCS runner-up is gunning for its chance on the winning side of a Maria Carrillo matchup.
“It’s a different year,” Montgomery coach Pat McDonald said. “Our core group has stayed intact and they are trying to find a way to beat Carrillo.”
Thanks to a 3-0 start, including a 1-0 win over seventh-ranked Alta of Utah over the weekend, the momentum is strong heading into conference play, he said. It’s necessary considering the Vikings face Maria Carrillo in their second game of league play on Sept. 15.
“The girls are very positive every time they take the field,” McDonald said.
The Vikings also boast the talent of Taylor Ziemer, the senior forward who was named Gatorade State Girls Soccer Player of the Year and spent the summer vying for a spot on the U18 Women’s National Team.
“She’ll be ready to dish out the assists because she’ll get a lot of attention,” McDonald said of the Vikings’ star player.
“She’ll need to be a good playmaker.”
It won’t be just the Vikings giving the Pumas a run for their title. With teams like Casa Grande and Ukiah in the mix, the season figures to be a tough chase.
“We want to get back to that level,” Casa Grande head coach Vinnie Cortezzo said. “We want to be a top-four team in our region.”
With the strength of Maria Carrillo and Montgomery, it will take more than what’s been shown in the last couple of years to overcome the top two teams in the conference, he added.
“We have to have the mentality that we can succeed against teams like that,” Cortezzo said.
The Gauchos finished in the top three last year, behind Maria Carrillo and Montgomery, with a 12-5-4 overall record, and will jump straight back into competition with the two. Casa’s conference opener is Thursday at home against Montgomery.
With midfielder Hailey Iribarne and center back Alexis Martinez — both senior captains — leading a well-balanced Gauchos squad, the team’s motivation is impressive, Cortezzo said.
“I tried giving them the day off (on Labor Day) and they asked if we could train instead,” he said. “They’re taking the season seriously and they want to grab the lead.”
They aren’t wasting any opportunities to chase the top spot in the NBL, Cortezzo said, but they are also aware of other hungry teams looking to topple the reigning champs.