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Montgomery stars’ soccer journey to continue at UC Davis

The Montgomery boys soccer duo of Zack Batchelder and Kevin Welch was the engine that propelled the Vikings to a state NorCal Division I championship back in early March. Normally, for two recently graduated high school seniors, their playing days on the same team would be over.

But for Welch and Batchelder, perhaps the best is yet to come ― the two Vikings standouts will play together on the UC Davis soccer team as non-scholarship athletes starting this fall, assuming the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t wipe out the season.

Batchelder and Welch are close friends and have many similarities: Both are great students (each with an overall high school GPA of 4.4), have played club soccer in Santa Rosa competitively for 10 years, approach the game with a determined sense of purpose and wanted to be Aggies.

“It is pretty cool that we are going to play together in college. I never thought it would play out like this,” Welch said. “Zack and I have chemistry together and know how each other plays.”

Welch, a midfielder (10 goals, 11 assists in 2020), and Batchelder (54 goals, 16 assists in 2020 and 96 goals in his three-year career) had different roles for the Vikings. Welch was a catalyst on defense and a ball distributor on offense while Batchelder was a pure scorer.

“Zack’s finishing ability is stone-cold clinical. His success rate is unbelievable. His touch on the ball is sublime,” Montgomery coach Jon Schwan said. “Kevin was the heart and soul of our team; one of the smartest players I’ve ever coached, like a coach in the field.”

Welch and Batchelder were co-captains for the Vikings’ 2019-20 campaign and added to the storied program’s dynasty. At the end of the season, Montgomery was ranked the No. 1 team in California and No. 7 nationally by MaxPreps and ranked No. 2 nationally by the USA Today/United Soccer Coaches poll.

Montgomery was a remarkable 26-0-1 (The Vikings played to a tie with Rancho Cotate) en route to the North Coast Section Division 1 title via a 3-2 victory over Berkeley. That was followed by a 3-1 come-from-behind road victory over Jesuit of Carmichael for the CIF NorCal Division 1 crown.

In the game against Jesuit, the second-seeded Vikings trailed 1-0 to the No. 1 Marauders just 12 minutes into the first half. Montgomery didn’t panic against the favored team but instead scored the equalizer right before halftime. Welch drew a penalty when the Jesuit goalie fouled him in the penalty box and Batchelder calmly buried the penalty kick to even the score 1-1 going into the locker room. Montgomery won the second half 2-0 to grab the title.

“We came out a little nervous. That first goal helped our team settle down a little bit and gave us confidence that we could come back,” Batchelder said. “I knew we had the players (at the start of the season) we needed to accomplish what we wanted.”

Batchelder said the 1-1 tie with Rancho Cotate in the final game of the regular season ― the only blemish on the Vikings’ record ― was a turning point for Montgomery.

“We were caught off guard. That got us motivated. After that, our entire team rallied (in the playoffs),” Batchelder said. “The Rancho game proved critical to our season.”

Along the way the two players racked up some impressive accolades.

Batchelder was a MaxPreps junior All-American; Prep2Prep junior player of the year in the NCS and player of the year as a senior; United Soccer Coaches first-team All-Western Region selection both as a junior and senior; and North Bay League Oak Division MVP as a junior and co-offensive player of the year as a senior.

As a senior, Welch was an NBL-Oak first-team selection; NCS first-team (all divisions) selection and runner-up for NCS Player of the Year.

“Of course it is nice to be recognized for your accomplishments,” Batchelder said. “It gave me confidence. All of my hard work paid off.”

Both players were on the varsity squad for three years and together won a state championship, two NCS Division 2 titles (2018, 2019) and a Division 1 title in 2020, after the Vikings were bumped up to play in the largest school division.

“Those big schools have a large pool of kids to choose from,” Welch said. “But we are just as good as those big schools with our talent in Sonoma County.”

It wasn’t all glory for Batchelder and Welch, who as sophomores lost in the 2018 state NorCal Division I championship game to St. Ignatius of San Francisco, 3-2.

“We felt the pain of losing in the state final,” Welch said. “We weren’t going to let that happen again.”

Both players said they were thankful for the honor of playing for the Montgomery program and the great experience they had.

“I am grateful to have had coach Schwan as a coach and have great teammates to help build the dynasty,” Welch said. “It was a really special group of guys.”

Batchelder had similar sentiments.

“I’m thankful for all the coaches I have had and for my teammates as well. I am definitely going to miss playing at Montgomery,” Batchelder said. “It is crazy how well Montgomery has done in the past 10 or 15 years. I was just lucky to be part of such a great program. It is kind of indescribable being a part of it.”

The two friends, who also play golf together, will be freshman roommates in a triple dorm room with another incoming soccer player at UC Davis this fall.

Welch will be an engineering major and plans on working in that field as a career. Batchelder will be a managerial economics major and wants a career in business.

One area of difference between the players is their sizes ― Welch is nearly 6-foot-2 and 165 pounds while Batchelder is 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds, and said he knows he will be going up against much larger players in college.

“I’ve been playing against bigger players all of my life. I’m not really intimidated by bigger players,” Batchelder said. “You have to learn tricks against bigger guys. I play bigger than I am.”

Both players said it will be hard to become a starter their freshman year for the Aggies, who won the Big West championship last season, but that earning significant minutes and being a major contributor to the team is within reach.

“The game is a lot quicker in college,” Welch said. “Decision-making, strength and fitness all need to improve.”

Schwan said he is excited to see what both players will do at UC Davis and in life.

“Watching Zack and Kevin grow up as players and young men has been one of the highlights of my coaching career,” Schwan said.

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