By MARTY JAMES
After going 1-5-1 during a very difficult and challenging nonconference season in August and September, the Napa Valley College men's soccer team began Bay Valley Conference play on Oct. 1 by falling behind in the first minute of its match against College of Marin of Kentfield.
"It was a little bit of a shocker, an eye opener. I think all the players were just flat footed. But the guys were able to bounce back and stay composed and got the job done," Napa Valley head coach Rogelio Ochoa said.
Napa Valley responded in a big way following Marin's goal by Joseph Ndungu, off an assist from Kristoffer Wangberg.
Jesus Ochoa scored an unassisted goal at the 22-minute mark, tying the match, and the Storm went on to win, 3-1.
William Biondini's goal, off an assist from Victor Fernandez, gave Napa Valley the lead in the second half, at the 58th minute.
Biondini's second goal came in the 75th minute. The assist went to Ochoa.
"I think it was a little bit of a reality check," said Rogelio Ochoa, who is in his third year with the Storm. "We got it set up. You've got to bring your 'A' game every time. We can't panic and we've got to stay focused."
Napa Valley continued its season, beating Contra Costa of San Pablo, 4-0, and Merritt of Oakland, 3-2, to extend its winning streak to three in a row and vaulting the Storm into first place in the Bay Valley.
The Storm lost its match to Mendocino of Ukiah, 2-1, on Oct. 11.
"It definitely showed in nonconference games that we were ready for conference," said Rogelio Ochoa.
In the match against Contra Costa, Biondini scored two goals and Victor Fernandez and Jesus Ochoa each had one goal.
Biondini scored in the first minute off an assist from Jesus Ochoa. Fernandez scored in the ninth minute off an assist from Alex Cendejas. Jesus Ochoa scored an unassisted goal at the 21-minute mark. Biondini scored in the 60th minute, with the assist going to Marco Manzo.
"We're going to get great opportunities," said Rogelio Ochoa. "It's making sure our defense and our keeper stay composed. It's just being patient and knowing that opportunities will come, and to take advantage of them when they do show up."
In the game against Merritt, Fernandez opened the scoring in the 20th minute, with Biondini getting the assist.
Jesus Ochoa scored an unassisted goal in the 48th minute and Gregorio Soria had an unassisted goal in the 80th minute.
In the loss to Mendocino, Jesus Ochoa scored on a penalty kick in the ninth minute.
"Hopefully, this week we can continue pushing. If we can get some good results, we can create separation," said Rogelio Ochoa.
Napa Valley faces Yuba of Marysville on Tuesday and Marin on Friday.
The overall depth of the team has been a key to the season, with reserves stepping in to play while as many as seven players have been out due to injury.
"We're very hurt right now, as we have a lot of injuries," said Rogelio Ochoa. It's been like that since we started nonconference. It's that next player step-up mentality. They've shocked me personally, because with so many injuries, players that maybe are not used to playing in certain positions or have to play a position they don't necessarily feel comfortable in, they've done well."
Napa Valley (4-6-1 overall, 3-1 BVC) is in first place in the conference. The Storm is followed by Merritt (2-8-1 overall, 2-1-1 BVC), Mendocino (6-6-1 overall, 2-2 BVC), Contra Costa (2-11 overall, 2-2 BVC), Yuba (4-9-1 overall, 1-2-1 BVC), and Marin (2-11 overall, 1-3 BVC).
The nonconference matches are not over for Napa Valley, as it will go on the road to face American River of Sacramento on Oct. 22 and Santa Rosa Junior College on Oct. 29.
"Playing against these opponents gives us a good understanding of where we stand and what we need to do to improve," said Rogelio Ochoa. "There's a lot of learning. We feel very confident. The goal is to win conference."
If the Storm has taken on an identity, it's the fact that they are a physical, strong team, with speed up top and a solid defense, said Rogelio Ochoa.
"They're just grinding. We know our strengths," said Rogelio Ochoa.
Napa Valley has won the last two Bay Valley Conference championships.
It's a big week for Rogelio Ochoa. He is also the head coach for Napa Valley 1839 FC, which has a National Premier Soccer League Members Cup match on Saturday against New York Cosmos B at Justin-Siena High School's Dodd Stadium at 7 p.m. The NPSL Members Cup is a fall tournament.
Napa Valley 1839 FC is a local men's amateur soccer team and plays in the West Region Conference's Golden Gate Division
"We're very fortunate to be able to bring such high level soccer to our backyard. We're looking forward to the match," said Rogelio Ochoa.
* Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association, Associated Press Sports Editors, and California Prep Sports Media Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016 and the Vintage High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2019.