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IF YOU GO

Who: Montgomery v. Maria Carrillo

What: North Bay League girls’ soccer

When: 11 a..m Saturday

Where: Santa Rosa High

If soccer fans felt like something was missing in their lives this fall, there is a reason: The girls teams of the North Bay and Sonoma County leagues are in their first year of winter soccer, meaning it’s been a full year since we have seen the likes of Montgomery and Maria Carrillo take the field.

The wait is over.

The two most dominant large-school girls programs in the area will face off at 11 a.m. Saturday at Santa Rosa High.

“Every year that we play Carrillo has been super competitive and also super exciting,” Montgomery senior Gabby Albavera said.

Montgomery comes into the game with the upper hand. The Vikings went 21-1 last season, including an undefeated roll through the North Bay League, en route to the NCS Division 1 fall title — their 10th in program history. From that squad, much of the firepower that scored 99 goals in 22 games returns, including leading scorers Albavera and junior striker Cindy Arteaga. With stellar sophomore Micky Rosenabaum at center mid, the Vikings will be a handful offensively.

What is different for the Vikings is Ashley Baker. For the first time in what seems like forever, Montgomery has a new goalkeeper.

Baker, a standout softball player, takes the reins of the defense in her senior year. The Vikings defense gave up four goals in their season opener against Davis in November, but have allowed just one goal since, to Redwood. They shut out both Santa Rosa and Napa.

“She’s a good athlete,” coach Pat McDonald said of Baker. “Ashley just needs to be a little more assertive in the back and talk to her defense a little more.”

Helping her will be reigning NBL defensive player of the year Leanna McMahon and fellow senior Grace Radeski.

“Grace is a key player,” McDonald said. “She is really key to stopping (opponents’) best player.”

For Debra LaPrath’s Pumas, the best players might not be where you’d expect. She says that some of her most dynamic offensive players are taking one for the team and playing defensive roles — at least at this point in the season.

Brianna Van Giesen, Megan Sullivan and Candace Hillegas, all senior captains, will hold down Carrillo’s back line — and not really by choice, but by necessity.

“All three of them would like to go forward, but we don’t let them right now. We need them,” LaPrath said. “Therein lies why they are so admired by their teammates.”

But an attack-minded defender can mean trouble for opponents.

“Megan is kind of the heart of the back line, but she’s an incredibly good attacking player,” LaPrath said. “She’s very smart and very composed. She has a very calming affect on her team.”

That is a positive for the relatively young Pumas, a team that graduated just three seniors from last year’s squad that went 14-5 overall and 11-3 in league last season before getting upset in the NCS quarterfinal round by Windsor, the eventual runner-up.

But as much fun as the Montgomery-vs.-Carrillo rivalry has been over the years, there is some excitement that the move to a winter season opens the doors for these squads to not only test their mettle against the likes of a solid Windsor team and a talented crew at Cardinal Newman, but also introduce North Bay League powers to the likes of Livermore, Northgate, Bishop O’Dowd and Alhambra.

“It’s exciting to be playing in a new season and with different teams,” Arteaga said.

“We are going to get a lot more competition in wintertime,” Baker said.

Both McDonald and LaPrath expressed disappointment at not getting as robust a preseason schedule as they would have liked. LaPrath said she reached out to all four teams that reached the semifinal round in last year’s Division 2 NCS tournament. She heard back from only Livermore, last season’s Division 2 champions.

“I wanted to play at least two of them,” she said.

“I called all over the place. I started in the spring,” she said. “The only one who ever reciprocated was Livermore.”

The Pumas, who are 3-1 overall and 1-0 after beating Ukiah 2-1 in overtime in their NBL opener, lost to Livermore 2-0 on Dec. 9.

“It was our best game of the season even though the result wasn’t what we wanted,” she said. “We dominated, but we had a hard time finishing.”

McDonald had the same struggles with scheduling.

“Half the schools didn’t get back to me and the other half said, ‘Yes, but we have this one date available,’” he said.

McDonald was able to schedule games with Davis, Redwood, Napa, San Marin and Acalanes.

“I’m just trying to get exposure for the girls with out-of-the-area teams,” he said. “We are excited about the competition, definitely, and there is nothing we can do about the weather, so we just play.”

And with weather Saturday expected to be downright balmy in Santa Rosa, there is nothing to worry about except soccer.

“It’s always a great game,” McDonald said.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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