Benefield: Roseland University Prep girls soccer squad setting sights high
After Tino Fonzeca coached his Roseland University Prep boys soccer team to such success that the squad jumped to the more competitive winter season last year, his fall schedule was suddenly wide open. So he took over the girls soccer program.
But in his inaugural season last fall, Fonzeca, being new, was unsure how hard to push or where to set his expectations for the Knights. The year prior, they had finished with a solid 12-5-3 overall record and went 10-3-3 to finish fourth in the final season of the North Central League II configuration. He knew he had players and wanted to drive the team hard but not drive them away.
“Last year it was a little bit weird,” he said. “I just didn’t want anyone to quit.”
Balancing a need to build the program and an instinct to push for results, the Knights played to a 11-3-4 overall record and a 6-1-1 league record — which was good enough for second in the North Central League III and a spot in the North Coast Section Division 1 tournament, where they were bounced in the first round.
That’s all well and good, but this year their collective aim is higher. Looking at his roster this season and the number of returning players he has at his disposal, Fonzeca isn’t biting his tongue anymore.
“This year, I have made it known — it’s league championship and a run in the playoffs,” he said.
They are off to a heck of a start.
The Knights are 8-0. Granted, that record includes two forfeits — to Anderson Valley and Mendocino — but it also includes road wins over perennially tough teams like Middletown and St. Helena.
Those two wins, right out of the gate, got the Knights believing.
“Last year we lost against them and they were our first game,” senior midfielder Kensy Mendoza said of the Middletown Mustangs. “We went up there (this year) with the mentality of never giving up … we beat someone we didn’t beat last year, so it showed we improved.”
And their opener, a 2-1 win against St. Helena in broiling August heat? That one showed Fonzeca something about his squad.
“Girls were just dying out there,” he said. “But we put away two late. … We had every reason to pack it in. It was so hot. At one time, we were playing with 10 girls. We had girls hurt, one had a bloody nose, it was too hot for some girls. We weren’t prepared for it.”
The Knights perhaps weren’t prepared for it, but they answered the call.
“We got tested early and we snuck away with some wins,” Fonzeca said. “Girls are clicking and it’s getting easier.”
Junior striker Stephanie Guzman agreed.
“Everything is falling into place,” she said.
The Knights are beating teams this year that they were only able to pull out a draw with last year — Cloverdale, St. Helena, Credo. Every game is feeding their confidence.
Guzman has a team-leading 13 goals on the season. Freshman striker Jackie Pacheco has nine.
But don’t mistake confidence for conceit. The Knights know their road will have speed bumps.