The Pajaro Valley High boys' soccer team is led by Efrian Martinez [from left], Isaac Rojas, Giovanni Bedolla and Salvador Mora Plata. (Juan Reyes/The Pajaronian)

It’s somewhat true that most schools won’t compete with other teams in a lower division for fear of missing out on Central Coast Section points to earn a playoff berth. 

The Pajaro Valley High boys’ soccer team didn’t seem to have that problem this offseason. 

In fact, several schools turned their heads in the Grizzlies’ direction and reached out to head coach Cesar Rojas via email or on the telephone. 

The second-year skipper instantly felt the respect.

“I told the boys at the beginning this year is different. Everyone wants to test the lion,” he said.

It’s a carryover from last year’s successful CCS playoff run that saw the Grizzlies reach the Division I finals for the first time in the program’s history. 

Pajaro Valley lost to Bellarmine College Prep in the section championship, which left a stinging feeling with junior midfielder Isaac Rojas. 

“We got some unfinished business, especially in CCS,” he said. “You’re gonna see us back there again lifting the trophy this time. I’m gonna make sure of that.”

Pajaro Valley got off on the right track in the 2023-24 season opener on Nov. 28 with a 3-1 win over Aptos—one of the best teams in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League.

The Grizzlies followed up with a 3-3 tie against defending PCAL Gabilan Division champion Alisal High and a 2-2 tie with Seaside High, also a member of the Gabilan.   

A trip to the Clovis Powerade Showcase in Fresno in mid-December was also exactly what Pajaro Valley needed prior to entering league play. They competed against Clovis, San Luis Obispo and Mission Oak of Tulare.   

Cesar Rojas said the defense has been solid, conceding just one goal per game. But one area of concern is finishing with the ball on offense. 

Rojas is putting sole responsibility on the team captains: seniors Salvador Mora Plata and Giovanni Bedolla along with his son Isaac to get the rest of the team fired up. 

“I’ll do the subs, but you guys will lead the game from inside the field,” Cesar Rojas said. “We are a good team, but at the same time, the boys get so much pressure on their backs that they start playing sloppy.”

Isaac Rojas said his experience from last season is it takes a lot of courage and heart just to reach the CCS playoffs.

“Mentally, you gotta be prepared for that because it’s tough,” he said.

Getting back to the finals will be an even taller task with the departure of nine seniors, including former standouts Ignacio Aguado, Aaron Hernandez, Carlos Mata and Johan Vazquez. 

In 2022-23, Pajaro Valley finished with a 17-2-4 overall record and captured the PCAL Cypress Division crown with a 10-1-1 record in league play.  

The program is consistently improving and continues to see a rise in participants with about 95 students showing up to tryouts this season.

So far, the defense has been the Grizzlies’ strength and the midfielders are playing exceptionally well. 

Isaac Rojas believes the amount of heart they play the game with is what carries the team each year.  

“We’re not just teammates here, we’re a family,” he said. “We’re all united, we all take care of each other. The energy is good here, it’s alway positive around here.”

Some key returners include seniors Jesus Alvarado, Efrian Martinez and Gael Oviedo-Virgin; and juniors Kristof Garcia and Carlos Pantoja.  

Leading the underclassmen is freshman Justin Alfaro, an essential asset for Pajaro Valley that reminds Cesar Rojas of his son Isaac when he first stepped on to the scene.

“[Alfaro’s] a leader, he’s a good kid, very talented. He’s in there trying to take a spot,” Cesar Rojas said.

Cesar Rojas likes to remind the players it doesn’t matter if they’re a senior or freshman, whoever is performing the best at the moment will see playing time on the pitch.  

Jesus Maravilla-Ortiz, a sophomore, scored a beautiful goal in their 2-0 win over Monterey in PCAL Mission Division action on Jan. 10.

Cesar Rojas said a toughened preseason schedule should’ve prepared Pajaro Valley (6-7-5, 4-4-2) for the Mission Division—the second highest tier of the four tiers within the PCAL. 

Salinas (7-5-1, 4-4-1), which dropped from the Gabilan Division, and King City (7-6-3, 5-1-3) are the teams to beat, yet Monterey (10-5-1, 4-4) continues to be a competitor in the division.

Palma (6-7-3, 3-3-2) returned to the Mission Division, while Rancho San Juan (5-6-3, 2-2-3) made the jump from the Cypress Division.

The Trailblazers are struggling in the higher division with Soledad (3-5-4, 1-5-3) not far behind.

Pajaro Valley and Soledad battled in a 2-2 tie on Thursday.

Cesar Rojas said the goal is to win the league crown because most teams want to be promoted rather than relegated, giving them the opportunity to play with the big dogs in the upper divisions. 

Isaac Rojas added that each team within the division is on an even playing field, which makes capturing a league crown all that much more difficult.

“We’re all right there at the top fighting for it,” he said.

Pajaro Valley plays at King City on Feb. 7 at 5:45pm, followed by the regular season finale at home against Palma on Feb. 9 at 3:30pm.

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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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