Preview to NVC's NorCal Regional playoff match Saturday against Santa Rosa
By MARTY JAMES
The Napa Valley College men's soccer team set two goals at the start of the season.
One was to win the Bay Valley Conference title. Goal achieved.
The other one was to win a first-round match in the playoffs.
The Storm will get that chance when it travels on Saturday to face Santa Rosa Junior College, the No. 1 seed and the Big 8 Conference champion, in the 2019 California Community College Athletic Association Championships.
Napa Valley (9-7-2 overall, 8-1-1 Bay Valley Conference) is the No. 16 seed and brings a four-game winning streak into the 1 p.m. Northern California Regional match against Santa Rosa (16-1-2 overall, 9-0-1 Big 8 Conference).
"I think the players know what's at stake. I think they know the history of our program and this would be huge to be able to make that next step," Napa Valley coach Rogelio Ochoa said after Wednesday's practice. "I think winning conference for three years in a row is a big accomplishment. But now we have got to push ourselves and that's been our mindset all two weeks now – being ready for this one match and not thinking past it, just making sure we're planning and we're preparing, and that we know the game plan for this match."
Napa Valley has lost in the first round of the Northern California Regionals the last two years.
In 2017, it was a 7-0 loss to Hartnell-Salinas. Last year, it was a 3-0 loss to West Valley-Saratoga.
Napa Valley and Santa Rosa had their nonconference match, originally scheduled for Oct. 29, postponed due to the power shutoffs in the North Bay.
The two teams have played in nonconference matches over the years.
The Storm lost 1-0 during the 2017 season. The Storm lost 5-4 last year.
"It's always a close match, so I expect this to be no different," said Ochoa. "We will do what's needed to get the result. It's being offensive, being defensive, possessing the ball. We'll do whatever we need to do."
Napa Valley has been on a roll, with consecutive Bay Valley wins over Contra Costa-San Pablo (1-0), Merritt-Oakland (2-1), Mendocino-Ukiah (3-0), and Yuba-Marysville (2-0). This is also NVC's third straight conference title.
"It's just about timing, and I think right now we are the healthiest that we have been all season," said Ochoa. "We're in better shape now than we've been all season because now we're healthy, so we can really push them a little bit more instead of just trying to get them healthy.
"We have a full bench. We have starters that are ready. We have everyone ready to go for the whole 90 (minutes)."
Santa Rosa takes a six-game winning streak into the tournament. It's a 16-team, single-elimination bracket. There are seven other Round 1 matches scheduled for Saturday.
"The right mentality has to be there first and then we have to also go out with the grit and just go hard and work hard every moment," said Javier Rodriguez, a midfielder for Napa Valley. "Every moment counts."
The Regionals continue with Round 2, scheduled for Nov. 26 or 27, and Round 3, scheduled for Nov. 30. The state finals are scheduled for Dec. 6 and 8 at De Anza College in Cupertino.
Santa Rosa has consecutive wins over College of Marin-Kentfield (4-0), American River-Sacramento (2-0), Modesto (4-3), Cosumnes River-Sacramento (3-0), San Joaquin Delta-Stockton (1-0), and Folsom Lake (3-1).
Napa Valley, the only team from the Bay Valley Conference in the Regional bracket, has a 7-1-2 record over its last 10 matches. The Storm has outscored its opponents, 29-21 overall, and 25-8 in conference matches.
Santa Rosa has outscored its Big 8 Conference opponents, 26-4, and has outscored its overall opponents, 65-14.
"We had a rough preseason, with only winning one game, but we ended up making history with having one of the best records during conference," said NVC midfielder Alex Cendejas. "We are playing the No. 1 seed, so we do have a lot of pressure and I know some of us are really nervous, because we will be facing a really tough opponent. But I think if we work together like we did all season, we will take care of business on Saturday.
"Our No. 1 goal is to be able to advance. We are definitely the underdogs. Everyone believes that Santa Rosa is going to just walk all over us because they are No. 1 and we're No. 16. But we're going to put up a fight and we're going to prove everyone wrong."
The tentative starting lineup for the Storm includes Carlos Ayala (goal keeper), Bryan Reynoso-Gutierrez (defender), Rodriguez (midfield), Cendejas (midfield), Luis Moreno (forward), Marcos Manzo (midfield), Jesus Ochoa (midfield), Nicholas Erwin (defender), Julio Alonzo (defender), William Biondini (forward), and Cruz Palafox (defender).
"We're working hard and we're hungry," said Moreno. "Like (Cendejas) said, we're the underdog. So I think in a way that's making us a lot hungrier. We all have confidence in each other, and that's a big key. This is why we have the record that we have right now, because we all are confident in one another and we're comfortable passing the ball to each other."
In the win over Mendocino on Nov. 8, Biondini scored two goals and Moreno had a goal. The assists were credited to Rodriguez, Cendejas and Biondini. Ayala had five saves.
In the win over Yuba on Nov. 12, Moreno and Jesus Ochoa each scored a goal. Manzo and Rodriguez each had an assist.
"We're comfortable with each other and we know how to play with each other as well," said Rodriguez. "We all know how to touch the ball. We all know how to play."
Biondini, one of the team's top scorers, said the Storm in clicking and playing well heading into the postseason.
"At the beginning of the season, we were all just trying to get our chemistry down and learning how to play with each other," Biondini said. "I feel like we're pretty solid."
Also in the bracket is:
* No. 2 seed Fresno City (13-1-7 overall, 5-1-2 Central Valley Conference).
* No. 3 seed Folsom Lake (12-5-5 overall, 5-3-2 Big 8 Conference).
* No. 4 seed Foothill-Los Altos Hills (13-1-5 overall, 8-0-4 Coast-North Conference).
* No. 5 seed Canada-Redwood City (13-6-1 overall, 8-4 Coast-South Conference).
* No. 6 seed De Anza-Cupertino (10-3-6 overall, 7-0-5 Coast-South Conference).
* No. 7 seed Butte-Oroville (19-1-2 overall, 10-0-2 Golden Valley Conference).
* No. 8 seed City College of San Francisco (7-2-9 overall, 6-2-4 Coast-North Conference).
* No. 9 seed West Valley-Saratoga (10-6-3 overall, 8-3-1 Coast-North Conference).
* No. 10 seed Hartnell-Salinas (11-6-2 overall, 8-3-1 Coast-South Conference).
* No. 11 seed San Joaquin Delta-Stockton (11-6-4 overall, 4-4-2 Big 8 Conference).
* No. 12 seed Clovis (12-3-6 overall, 4-1-3 Central Valley Conference).
* No. 13 seed American River-Sacramento (11-8-3 overall, 5-4-1 Big 8 Conference).
* No. 14 seed Feather River-Quincy (11-4-4 overall, 8-1-3 Golden Valley Conference).
* No. 15 seed Cabrillo-Aptos (9-7-3 overall, 6-4-2 Coast-South Conference).
* 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 September of 2019.