Aptos High sophomore Alexa Castañeda, left, and head coach Gina Castañeda were awarded with the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League's top honors for the 2023-24 season. (The Pajaronian file photos)

The Aptos High girls’ soccer team in 2023-24 had one of its most inspirational seasons in the program’s history.

Mariners superstar Alexa Castañeda wanted to make her case throughout the campaign as one of the league’s top players. 

Meanwhile her mom and head coach, Gina Castañeda, wasn’t even sure if she was returning at the helm following a life-changing surgery procedure

The mother and daughter duo were awarded the highest honors at the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League’s end-of-the-year meeting for their efforts both on and off the pitch.

“It’s special because I feel like she really deserved it and we both worked really hard for the award,” Alexa Castañeda said. “We don’t know if we’ll get it again next year, so it’s really special to us.”

Alexa was named Player of the Year after the standout sophomore finished with a team-best 11 assists and was second in scoring with 10 goals, according to stats on the Monterey Bay Preps website.

Gina helped lead the Mariners to a 15-3-3 overall record and back-to-back SCCAL crowns, earning her Coach of the Year honors.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m humbled by it and I appreciate it,” Gina Castañeda said. “But for a lot of these girls this is their last year, as a senior. I’d rather acknowledge one more high schooler for their contributions, maybe not just this year, but all for years.” 

Aptos nearly swept the top honors. Junior defender Anahi Macias was awarded Defensive Player of the Year, and senior Alessandra Zuniga was recognized as Goalkeeper of the Year.

Zuniga had 29 saves and helped the defense record 12 shutouts, while Macias had three goals and was a stalwart on the backline. 

Offensive Player of the Year was awarded to Soquel High senior Julia Inkles, who had 11 goals and six assists, according to the Max Preps website.

Castañeda was aiming to have fun and do the best they could, especially knowing her mom was going to be on the sideline this past season.

“I always take advantage of the times I have playing soccer, because at practice you could get hurt, in a game you could get hurt,” Alexa said. “[It’s] playing in the moment and not looking for the next day.”

Castañeda had goals such as winning a league crown (which the Mariners did) and making it as far as they could in the Central Coast Section playoffs.

Aptos lost a heartbreaker to No. 2 seed Leland in the Division II quarterfinals.

“I just tried my best every practice and every game so we could win,” she said.

Gina Castañeda made it clear there was no favoritism just because Alexa is her daughter. 

In fact, Alexa has been identified as one of the best players in the western region of the United States. She’s on the state Olympic Development Program team for Northern California and received the invite for the West Region Camp in Utah. 

“I don’t want people to think she’s got a free ticket or an easy ride. That’s not the case,” Gina Castañeda said. “Because the truth is, she’s so dedicated and devoted, and works just extra hard. Her soccer IQ, how she plays and understands the game, she’s just super intelligent.” 

Gina noted that Alexa is the type of player who always checks her shoulder to see in relation not only where she is, but where her teammates and the defenders are at all times. She’s also looking for how to get the ball into a space where her teammates can be the most effective.

“It’s pretty impressive to watch her play,” Gina said. 

A trio of Mariners in freshman Isabella Hartnett, sophomore Izzie Schenone and senior Ella Shoemaker earned All-SCCAL First Team honors.

Hartnett led the Mariners with 13 goals to go along with four assists, while Shoemaker had five goals and five assists.

Aptos seniors Peyton Westjohn and Kaitlyn Murphy, and freshman Scarlett Stateler earned all-league second team honors.

Angelique Nunez, a senior, along with junior Isabelle Graff and sophomore Anahi Najera made the honorable mention list. 

Alexa Castañeda said this year’s group had such a different bond than any other year because of how much they hung out together outside of the pitch.

Gina Castañeda knew the coaching staff had an amazing team full of talented and hardworking players. Those who received awards were the cream of the crop out of six teams in the SCCAL, yet everyone contributed one way or another.  

“They should be really proud of that,” she said. “But it really took a team, not just those players individually to win a league title and advance to the CCS playoffs.”

Going into the CCS playoffs, the Marines were one of the highest ranked teams—boys or girls—within the league and county. They earned the No. 7  seed in the Division II field.

“That just just says a lot about what a huge accomplishment that was for our team,” Gina said.

The Mariners had plenty of players who were dynamic and supported each other. Gina Castañeda said she’s glad this season wasn’t about a one-person team. 

“It was really about them together, and that’s what made it special and unique,” Gina said. “And that’s why I think we were so successful.”

Individual Awards

Player of the Year: Alexa Castañeda (So.), Aptos

Offensive Player of the Year: Julia Inkles (Sr.), Soquel

Defensive Player-of-the-Year: Anahi Macias (Jr.), Aptos 

Goalkeeper of the Year: Alessandra Zuniga (Sr.), Aptos

Coach of the Year: Gina Castañeda, Aptos

First Team

Isabella Hartnett (Fr.), Aptos 

Izzie Schenone (So.), Aptos 

Ella Shoemaker (Sr.), Aptos

Maya Kingsley (Sr.), Santa Cruz 

Taylor Ericson (Fr.), Scotts Valley 

Ella Ireland (So.), Scotts Valley

Chloe McGilvray (Jr.), Soquel

Arden Salles-Cunha (Jr.), Soquel

Trinity Wilson (Jr.), Soquel 

Becca Vaca (Jr.), Harbor 

Ava Root (Sr.), Harbor 

Taylor Long (Sr.), San Lorenzo Valley 

Second Team

Scarlett Stateler (Fr.), Aptos

Peyton Westjohn (Sr.), Aptos

Kaitlyn Murphy (Sr.), Aptos

Elena McCamey (Jr.), Santa Cruz 

Ava Bibighaus (Jr.), Harbor

Sonja Hulphers (Sr.), Harbor

Annie Gowing (Sr.), Scotts Valley

Dillon Fiorita (Jr.), Scotts Valley 

Madalyn Price (Sr.), Soquel 

Ashlyn Brady (Jr.), Soquel

Chloe Izenstark (Jr.), Soquel 

Jessica Stoelting (Jr.), SLV 

Honorable Mention

Anahi Najera (So.), Aptos 

Angelique Nunez (Sr.), Aptos

Isabelle Graff  (Jr.), Aptos 

Sienna Parker (Sr.), Santa Cruz 

Ruby Holmes (Sr.), Santa Cruz 

Lia Gularte (So.), Santa Cruz 

Paige Bariteau (Sr.), Scotts Valley 

Jordan Ericson (Jr.), Scotts Valley 

Skylar Dufour (Jr.), Scotts Valley 

Nola Salazar (Sr.), Soquel 

Isis Tumasom (So.), Soquel 

Alyce Javier (Jr.), Soquel 

Olivia Chen (Sr.), Harbor 

Anika Dawson (Sr.), Harbor

Ruby McAlister (Sr.), Harbor  

Joci Carkner (Sr.), SLV 

Naomi Sifton (Jr.), SLV 

Simone Mugnier (So.), SLV 

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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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