WATSONVILLE — Now in the Monterey Bay League Gabilan division, the Watsonville High Wildcatz understand they’ll need to step their game up.
So far, it looks like they’ve done just that.
In a battle of reigning league champions, Watsonville bested Soledad High en route to a 2-0 non-league win on Tuesday night at Emmett M. Geiser Field to improve to 2-0 on the season for the first time since 2010-11.
Senior forward Gabby Felix scored in the first half and freshman midfielder Denise Corrales added another in the second half, while junior keeper Jessica Zavala posted her second shutout of the early season.
“Right now we’re working on getting tighter as a team and building up from there as the season goes, so that we can get stronger and stronger,” said Watsonville head coach Gladys Mondragon. “The good thing about this is we’re putting some goals in — we’re finishing — and we haven’t allowed any goals yet but there’s going to be more games coming along.”
Senior Annah Ramirez made an assist on Felix’s header from point-blank range in the first half and several players, like freshman forward Jacky Garcia, sophomore defender Jasmine Orendain and junior forward Ashley Haduca, contributed into a well-rounded performance that kept the Wildcatz’s hot start rolling.
“It’s nice to have a good balance of younger players and old,” said Mondragon, who boasted that her Wildcatz have 12 upperclassmen and nine underclassmen. “It looks like we’re going to have some nice depth and it’s a good thing, especially coming up into the new big league.”
Watsonville last year won the MBL’s Pacific division and advanced to the Central Coast Section playoffs. It marked the first time the Wildcatz had won a league championship and earned a berth to the postseason since the 2011-12 campaign.
Now the road back to a league championship and CCS playoffs is a much more difficult trek. In the Gabilan division Watsonville will face teams like Christopher High, San Benito High and Salinas High, which has won the league title each of the last three seasons.
Only the top three teams from the Gabilan division, a “B”-rated league, are guaranteed a spot in CCS.
“That’s the key with the preseason, getting them to realize that it’s going to be a tougher road,” Mondragon said. “Sometimes it’s hard for them to see that but we’re making sure that we’re letting them know it’s going to be a very competitive season. Every game is going to be a challenge and we have to meet the expectations.”
Watsonville was balanced in its season-opening, 4-0 shutout victory over Carmel High, receiving goals from senior Annissa Lopez, junior Jacqueline Navarro, Garcia and Haduca.
The Wildcatz were the same on Tuesday night against Soledad, the two-time defending Mission Trail Athletic League champion.
From the start they attacked on offense, dictated the pace in the middle and erased any attacks on defense.
Felix and Haduca nearly combined for a score during the first 10 minutes but the latter’s shot flew just high and wide of the top right corner of the goal.
Felix, however, put the Wildcatz ahead in the 18th minute by squatting down and heading in Ramirez’s cross from just a handful of yards away from goal.
Corrales had a pair of free kicks from just a few feet outside of the penalty box that could have increased the lead at half but missed their mark by a couple of feet. But the speedy midfielder made up for it in the 73rd with a scoring strike from about 14 yards away.
Zavala wasn’t tested much but she passed each with flying colors and made three saves.
The Wildcatz’s best defense was their offense.
Watsonville will continue its season on Saturday in its 12th annual tournament back at Emmett M. Geiser Field. The Wildcatz will play in the Black bracket with Harbor High, Pacific Grove High, Monte Vista Christian, Santa Cruz High and Soledad.
Games begin at 9 a.m.
The championship match is scheduled for Dec. 9 at 7 p.m.
There is also a Gold bracket that includes King City High, North Monterey County High, Pacific Collegiate School, Pajaro Valley High and Stevenson High.