Benefield: Santa Rosa Junior College women's soccer team didn't let North Bay firestorm divert focus
The season could have been written off and no one would have blamed them.
Two starters on the Santa Rosa Junior College women’s soccer team were left homeless after the deadly wildfires destroyed so much in Sonoma County last month. Other players were evacuated from their homes, and pretty much everyone was scattered to the wind.
Practices, at least for a time, were prohibited because school was canceled and the air quality was dangerous.
The Coffey Park home goalkeeper Bailey Cahill has lived in since she was two years old burned to the ground.
Not only did the fire destroy all that the Cahills owned, it also burned defender Natasha Wallace’s belongings.
Wallace had been living with the Cahills so she wouldn’t have to commute to school from Vallejo.
“My parents took her in because they could see what kind of person she is,” Cahill said.
By the morning of Oct. 9, both Cahill and Wallace were homeless. But they were still teammates. And they still had soccer.
“The moment the fires hit, we had a decision to make,” coach Crystal Howard said.
“We can either use this as an excuse to have an average or below-average season, or have it motivate us,” she said. “We really accepted the fact that we weren’t going to let it be an excuse.”
They had plenty of excuses to pick from. Wallace, a starting defender who scored three goals and had three assists on the season, was left with little more than her bicycle and her 70-pound pit bull, Bentley.
“I had a lot of tools. I like to fix things myself,” she said. “I lost my car, too, so I guess there is no need for tools.”
Cahill, who was not at home the night of the blaze and had to get updates from her mom about the fate of their family home, had only what was with her for an overnight.
Cahill has been a rock in goal for the team this season, allowing .71 goals per game and eight shut outs.
The fire didn’t change that.
“Bailey is such an amazing goalkeeper,” said the Bear Cubs’ leading scorer, sophomore Kayleigh Alves. “I think she came out even stronger, actually. She didn’t let it faze her at all. I didn’t hear her say a negative word.”
And Alves, who led the team with 11 goals and two assists on the season, was watching closely.
It was two years ago that Alves, then a senior at Middletown High, was evacuated during a soccer game, only to learn that her family home had burned down in the Valley fire.
Alves described these past weeks since the fires as the worst kind of deja vu.
“I know that Bailey and Tash were both in the same situation and I’ve gone through it before, so they weren’t alone,” she said.
“Being surrounded by the team and coaching staff, it really encouraged me to focus my energy on what I had and not what I don’t have,” Cahill said. “I never once felt alone. I was going through such a traumatic thing, my teammates and friends and family all made it so much easier.”