Daisy Villegas had a number in mind.
The senior forward for Santa Catalina School had scored 23 goals one season ago and wanted to surpass that number.
She did that and a lot more, following up a Most Valuable Player campaign by putting up astounding stats as the Cougars won their third consecutive Mission Trail Athletic League championship.
Not only was Villegas a threat to score, she also created opportunities for teammates who finished the job.
Villegas indeed surpassed her goal, scoring 26 times. She also had 26 assists, 19 more than the previous year.
For doing what she did to help Santa Catalina this season, Villegas is The 2014 Salinas Californian Player of the Year.
Villegas said she was happy to finish her high school career as well as the Cougars did. Santa Catalina went 15-1-2 in the regular season, finished 13-0-1 in Mission Trail Athletic League play and earned a spot in the Central Coast Section tournament. She also was selected to the Salinas Californian All-Star Soccer Classic.
“Being undefeated (in league) was a really good feeling, and being selected to the All-Star team was a good way to end the season,” Villegas said.
In a year where most teams were defined by defense, it was Santa Catalina whose offense lifted them to wins repeatedly.
Santa Catalina was the highest-scoring team in the county, putting in 75 goals; only two other teams broke 50. The team won by three goals nine times.
A lot of it had to do with Villegas, whose speed and craftiness near the goal was enough to rattle the opposition.
Villegas said there was a little extra pressure to do well this season because it was her last.
“I heard other teams calling my name, saying ‘That’s Daisy, and she scores goals,'” she said. “I really tried to be an important player out on the field, and I just kept working hard.”
Even when other teams put the focus on Villegas, she still scored. She started the season with a hat trick against North Salinas.
The Cougars’ second game of the season, against Seaside, was where other teammates realized this could be a special run. Allie Aiello found a streaking Villegas and made a quick pass that Villegas turned into a goal. Santa Catalina stormed out to a 9-0 win.
“That was our first kind of moment where we clicked,” Aiello said.
Villegas said the first MTAL meeting against Greenfield on Jan. 16 was when she realized anything was possible. Both teams were undefeated in league play, with Greenfield riding a huge wave of momentum with wins against two coastal teams.
The Bruins had visions of first place. Santa Catalina had other plans, shutting down the Bruins 4-0. Villegas had a goal and an assist to Aiello.
“When we scored the first goal, I knew we could really do this,” Villegas said of the team’s title aspirations. “We could get balls in the back of the net against any team.”
The Greenfield game highlighted Villegas’ ability to not only score but also hook up with other teammates. A majority of her 26 assists were to Aiello.
“We worked well together,” Aiello said. “We passed to each other and helped each other score. It was a lot of fun.”
First-year Santa Catalina coach Ash Vasanji said Villegas was there to rise up as a leader during a game or a practice.
“When we needed the boost, she was there,” Vasanji said. “She could pass to a teammate or finish on her own. It was great to have a girl who could score and be selfless.”
After the end of the regular season, the coaches in the MTAL named Villegas the Forward of the Year.
As for the future, she said she hopes to play soccer at whatever college she next attends.
“It’s going to be different on the next level,” Villegas said. “It’ll be more competitive, and I’m up for that competition. I’ll work really hard to be a part of whatever team I’m on. I’m excited.”
Rest of the team
The rest of the All-County girls soccer team featured plenty of standouts who roamed the frontline, middle and back rows.
Santa Catalina’s Allie Aiello was right with Villegas on the front, and the 1-2 punch powered the Cougars to an amazing season.
Aiello finished with 27 goals and 13 assists for the season, and she did all of it as a freshman.
Aiello said the best part of the season was going through the MTAL with an undefeated record and bringing the team a second championship in a row.
Monterey High’s Tania Arrelano was a standout goalkeeper, denying opponents left and right en route to the Toreadores’ 12-win season.
Arrelano had more than 130 saves on the season as Monterey went into the final week of the regular season with championship aspirations.
She had back-to-back 15-save performances against Notre Dame and Alvarez in late January.
At the end of the season, the coaches named Arrelano the Goalkeeper of the Year in the Pacific Division.
It was the 15-save game against Notre Dame that was Arrelano’s favorite highlight of the season. She injured her ankle early in the Jan. 29 home game but came back and posted a shutout against the Spirits.
Arrelano’s teammate, Jordan Thompson, was another defensive force for the Toreadores. The junior sweeper was named the Defensive Most Valuable Player in the Pacific Division.
Soledad High forward Belinda Ascencio got the Aztecs back to a spot it hadn’t been to in five seasons.
The freshman led the team in goals as Soledad finished .500 in league play for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
For her efforts, the MTAL coaches voted her the league Most Valuable Player.
Ascencio said her favorite moments of the season were the two games against Greenfield.
While Santa Catalina’s offense blitzed the rest of the MTAL, junior goalkeeper Tamara Attia was a wall against the rest of the league.
Attia had 79 saves and posted seven shutouts, five in league play.
She was named the Goalkeeper of the Year in the MTAL.
Attia said it was great to finish MTAL play with an undefeated record, and her favorite moment was defeating Pacific Grove.
Marianna Barragan-Burns was everywhere on the field as Notre Dame won its first championship in league play since the turn of the century.
Burns had 19 goals on the season, easily leading the team in scores.
In the team’s MBL Pacific Division championship clincher, she had a hat trick, her third of the season.
She was named the Pacific Division Offensive Most Valuable Player. She said getting the win on the final day of league play was her favorite moment of the whole 2013-14 campaign.
Sami Deems was one of Pacific Grove’s catalysts in leading the team to an 8-5-1 finish in the MTAL this season.
One of Deems’ standout games was a hat trick against Gonzales in the first week of MTAL play, which she said was her favorite moment of the whole season.
The senior center-mid said she worked on being a leader for the rest of the team throughout the soccer year.
Another center-mid who stood tall was Alvarez’s Gigi Pedraza. The senior had seven goals and 12 assists on the season, and her play at the timeline helped Alvarez not only win its first championship in league play, but also reach the quarterfinals of the CCS Division I tournament.
Pedraza was named the Most Valuable Player of the MBL Pacific Division.
Pedraza said her favorite moment of the term was winning the CCS first-round contest against Hollister, which was the team’s first ever tournament win in school history.
Joining Pedraza on the field was Jasmine Vargas. The senior forward led the team with 20 goals. She had one hat trick, but then again, she also played in four consecutive games where she scored two goals each.
Her offensive outing came through in the team’s final five games as it made a late-season push to finish co-champions in the Pacific Division. And then she scored the lone goal in the Eagles’ first playoff win.
Of her 20 goals, Vargas said her last, which came in the playoff game, was her favorite.
Greenfield’s Maritza Trujillo and Stevenson’s Kelly Smith were named co-Midfielders of the Year in the MTAL.
Smith was one of the bright spots for Stevenson, leading the team in goals and assists her senior year. She finishes her four-year career with 60 goals and 20 assists. It was the third time she was named an all-leaguer and the third time she was selected to the All-County Girls Soccer team.
In the Salinas Californian All-Star Soccer Classic, she scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win.
Trujillo had a big hand in Greenfield’s record-setting season. She tied for the team lead in goals as the Bruins won 11 games overall and finished in second in the MTAL for the first time ever.
Trujillo said her favorite moment of the season was the Jan. 10 game against Carmel. In the 79th minute, Trujillo got a pass from Alicia Montanez near midfield, and she dodged all Carmel defenders to score the game-winning goal.
“I remember seeing Maritza play in other leagues, and I knew she had the ability to get somewhere,” said Greenfield coach Juan Pulido. “If she continues to play soccer, she will do really well.”
Right there with Trujillo was Greenfield defender Gabriela Pacheco, who patrolled the backfield and limited opponents’ chances to score.
Pacheco was one of the big reasons why Greenfield had a stretch of five shutouts in seven games.
She was named the MTAL Defender of the Year for her efforts. “She is a natural athlete,” Pulido said. “You could move her to any spot on the field because she was so talented.”
Notre Dame senior midfielder Jackie Tarsitano was a four-year standout for Notre Dame. She said she worked on her passing and playmaking.
Tarsitano also put in some shots, scoring six goals this season. She was named the Midfielder of the Year in the Pacific Division.
Tarsitano said winning the division title was her favorite moment of 2014.
In a very tough MBL Gabilan Division, Salinas’ Cynthia Camacho was a standout defender, helping the Cowboys post eight shutouts this season, including a 1-0 finish against Hollister in the Cowboys’ regular season finale.
Camacho was named by the coaches as the Defensive Player of the Year in the Gabilan Division.
Alisal High’s Lidia Ramirez was one of the many stellar players on a Trojan squad that used its defense to nearly win the MBL Gabilan Division in its first run through the tough division.
Ramirez was part of an Alisal squad that started the season with a defensive stand of more than 500 minutes. She was one of two Alisal players to earn all-division honors.
“The way she played as a defender, she made things difficult for other teams,” said Alisal coach Ramon Hernandez.
Salinas’ Alicia Cuevas was one of the Cowboys’ top scorers on the season, putting in nine goals and powering the team to a second-place finish in the Gabilan Division.
Cuevas received all-divisional honors.
Coach of the year
Greenfield High’s Juan Pulido helped lead the Bruins to the school’s best finish ever, as they went 11-4-2 overall and 9-3 in the MTAL.
For leading the Bruins to their first winning record in almost a decade, Pulido is the Coach of the Year.
It’s the second time in school history Greenfield finished with back-to-back seasons of at least a .500 record.
If there were any doubts that this season was different than others, Greenfield showed it early, going 5-0-2 in its first seven games, including a late-game stunner at Carmel and at home vs. Pacific Grove.