Benefield: Position switch fuels SRJC women's soccer victory

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Celeste Barajas had to move to defense to make her mark on offense.

The Santa Rosa Junior College sophomore was moved from an attacking role to left defender for the women's soccer home opener Tuesday, a move that clearly paid dividends for the Bear Cubs. Santa Rosa beat City College of San Francisco 2-1 to move to 1-1-1 overall.

And it was Barajas, who roamed the left side, quashing attacks on defense but also sparking all kinds of action on offense, that put her mark on the game. She sent a corner kick to freshman Kitana Gonzalez’s head for goal number one and then slotted a pass to the on-rushing sophomore striker Eden Brooker in the second half to put the Bear Cubs up for good.

“The coaches were saying ‘You should try Celeste at left back,’” Bear Cubs coach Crystal Howard said, laughing. “Finally I listened.”

The move put a stop to most of San Francisco’s attack on the right side and allowed Barajas, a sophomore who prepped at Santa Rosa High, to take advantage of her natural offensive instincts. Her work rate put San Francisco under pressure all afternoon long.

“It was a little bit tiring but it was definitely worth it,” she said of her many ventures into the attack. The Bear Cubs would agree.

It took a little while for the Bear Cubs to show their teeth against what looked like an overmatched San Francisco squad. Santa Rosa enjoyed an advantage in possession and had more chances on goal, but kept the visitors largely in the game.

And then San Francisco scored.

On a defensive miscue following a San Francisco throw in, freshman goalkeeper and Santa Rosa grad Megan Anderson called for the ball but could not make it to the edge of the box in time. No Bear Cub cleared it and San Francisco took advantage, gathering the ball and sending home a goal into a relatively open net.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Bear Cubs seemed to come to life after falling behind 1-0.

“It’s good to see that,” Howard said. “But one of our new preseason goals is to score first.”

That said, the Bear Cubs seemed to almost take umbrage that they were down. They turned into a different team and four minutes later, after winning a corner kick, Barajas sent a perfect ball into the box. Gonzalez, perhaps the shortest player on the field, knocked it in with a header.

“I’m proud they had a reaction,” Howard said. “They didn’t accept the way we were performing. You want that reaction — ‘We can be better.’”

But it wasn’t until the second half that the Bear Cubs took the lead. And again, it was Barajas on the left side, playing a role.

With 20 minutes to play, Brooker, who prepped at Montgomery, was fouled outside of the box on the left side. Barajas stepped up and instead of lofting one in front of the goal, she slotted a pass to a breaking Brooker on the left side of the box. Brooker controlled it, turned and sent a shot far post for the winner.

“I saw Eden on the perfect spot and I saw so much space, I’m like ‘Alright, she has to get this.’ Eden is Eden, she can get this,” Barajas said.

Brooker said the pass, almost like Barajas’s corner kick in the first, was perfection.

“I was kind of off on my own,” she said. “Perfect ball from Celeste, perfectly weighted, perfectly in my path and I took (it), turned in and far post.”

Brooker said the Bear Cubs took too long to get into the flow of the game. Much of the first half was spent reacting to San Francisco’s pace, instead of dictating what they wanted to do.

“Second half we definitely stepped it up. We were the ones controlling the game,” she said.

Now the goal is to turn what Howard calls this group’s “moments of brilliance” into sustained excellence. They have the pieces.

Dani Gilson, a transfer from University of Alabama who was a standout when she played at Cardinal Newman, directs traffic in the midfield for the Bear Cubs. Keeping her in touch with the ball more will be crucial to the team’s success.

“I’d like to get her the ball more so she can orchestrate things,” Howard said.

Gilson plays an unflappable style that oozes confidence.

“I think she is going to be a big piece of our attack,” Howards said.

Another piece is likely to be a new arrival, Gonzalez. Gonzalez prepped at Maria Carrillo and was slated to play at Sonoma State but is now putting her skills to work for the Bear Cubs. She was a thorn in San Francisco’s side all afternoon Tuesday, especially in the second half.

“She brings that extra level of craftiness, that extra level of soccer IQ,” Howard said.

The squad has a talented roster, it’s clear. Howard knows it. Putting them on the same page for a full 90 minutes is now the order of the day.

“We have strong bits and pieces,” she said. “We have all these amazing ingredients but how do we put them together to make the most fantastic cake?”

The Bear Cubs, now 1-1-1, have three days to get cooking. They play Ventura on the road Saturday and travel to Modesto next Tuesday.

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

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