WATSONVILLE—Pajaro Valley High boys soccer coach Cesar Rojas wanted to test his players and made it a point to schedule some of the toughest non-league opponents around in the area.
The Grizzlies—who have yet to suffer a loss—responded to their first-year skipper by firing right out the gates and going undefeated in their preseason portion of the schedule.
“I really wanted to challenge our kids, we say we want to win league, [Central Coast Section] and go to [CIF] State, but if we get there we have to be ready” Rojas said.
Pajaro Valley is currently sitting with a 5-0-3 overall record and looking to keep the momentum going for what could be lined up as a historic season.
The Grizzlies competed in the Central Valley Powerade Showcase in Fresno on Dec. 15-17. They ended in a 1-1 draw against Tulare Western, a 2-2 draw against Riverbank and a 3-1 win over Edison of Fresno.
Senior midfielder Ignacio Aguado mentioned the tournament featured a lot of tough competition, yet there was no excuse for how they performed.
“We definitely should’ve played better but we learned from it…there was so many good teams, it really showed us what we needed to work on moving forward,” Aguado said.
Pajaro Valley bounced back with a 3-1 statement victory over cross-town rival Watsonville on Dec. 23.
“The win means so much to us and the community,” Rojas said. “It shows us and everyone that we can beat anyone standing in our way.”
Aguado said he was expecting a tough matchup, but knew what his teammates were capable of doing.
“I was expecting a back and forth game. We kept our composure and played hard… I am confident with our team and knew what we were capable of,” he said.
Walking away victorious was huge in many ways for the program. However, Rojas doesn’t want the win to get to their heads.
“I don’t want to change our expectations or put more pressure on our boys, we have to stay humble, keep working and stay on track,” he said.
Rojas joined the program back in 2018 as an assistant coach and mentioned they’ve come a long way in the past four years. He mentioned it was tough at first for the coaching staff to get players motivated.
But most of the seniors—especially those who have been with the program since freshman year—continue to show Rojas what they’ve been capable of doing all along.
“We have such a great group, I’ve been working with a lot of these guys for many years now,” Rojas said. “I know what they can do. I see them making a historical run.”
The Grizzlies currently own three league championships with the last being in 2014 in the now defunct Monterey Bay League Pacific League. They also won their lone Central Coast Section championship after beating Palo Alto in the Division II championship in 2007.
Aguado will attempt to help the Grizzlies climb back to the top of the mountain this season.
The team captain returned to Pajaro Valley after he took a two-year break from high school soccer. He moved to San Diego to compete for Nomads Soccer Club and Academy, which is a United States Soccer Development Academy member.
“After a few years of playing academy, I felt myself starting to get burnt out so I stopped,” Aguado said. “When I moved back I decided to give high school a chance again and I really found love for the sport again.”
Aguado set big goals for himself and his teammates and is not afraid of the challenge.
“Our goal is to win our league, and then win CCS, and then go to State…we have the talent to do it, why not?” Aguado said.
Aguado plans to continue his career at the collegiate level. The two colleges eyeing him include CSU Monterey Bay and Dartmouth College.
Another star to look out for on the pitch is Grizzlies’ junior midfielder and three-year varsity starter Isaac Rojas.
He said the momentous win over a powerhouse rival like Watsonville was enormous not just for the program, but for the school as well.
“Watsonville has always been like the big brother, so to beat them means a lot to us,” he said.
Cesar Rojas emphasized Isaac’s lightning speed on the field and how he is always competing during a game or at practice.
The Grizzlies’ head coach sees the amount of work put in by each of the players on a daily basis. He knows what this group of “Osos Peligrosos” can do if they stay on the same page.
Issac Rojas feels he’s starting to grow into a leader role and he wants to push his teammates to the best of their abilities.
“I really want to see how far our guys can go,” he said. “We are hungry and willing to do the work… our goal is to win our league, compete in CCS, and then hopefully State.”
The Grizzlies are competing in the Pacific Coast Athletic League Cypress Division and attempting to capture their first league crown in eight years.
They’ll have to go through Gonzales (3-0-3), Monte Vista Christian (1-3-3), Marina (2-2-0), North Monterey County (0-4-2), Pacific Grove (1-4-1) and Rancho San Juan (0-3-2) in order to do so.
Cesar Rojas said most of the players have grown up playing together on club teams or in recreation leagues, which made his job much easier. He added that team chemistry will be one of the many key factors to their early success in league play.
“They know each other’s tendencies, they know how they think and it leads to big plays on the field, it’s definitely going to make a big impact,” Rojas said.
The Grizzlies will begin Cypress Division play at Monte Vista Christian on Friday at 5:45pm.
North Monterey County
North Monterey County will be led by first-year coach Juan Perez, who is pleased with talent they have at the varsity level
“We are doing good, I’m not going to say we’re doing great,” he said. “I know we have a solid team.
The Condors are still on the hunt for their first win of the season. They currently own an 0-4-2 overall record after going winless in the preseason portion of their schedule.
Perez put together a difficult schedule to get them ready for what will be a challenging league season.
“It’s good for them to play harder teams so by the time we get to our [league] teams, we’re pretty solid,” he said. “Also getting them into rhythm, finding each other.”
The defensive backfield is led by juniors Angel Rico and Ryan Ruiz, who earned All-PCAL honors last season.
Senior midfielder Jesus Hidalgo has been solid on the pitch and senior center back Rafael Rocha is the final line of defense as the Condors’ sweeper.
“We’re just lacking a little bit of definition, finishing up front,” Perez said. “But overall I think we have a solid strong team to compete against anybody.”
The Condors also have four solid goalkeepers in Angel Sanchez, Issac Arredondo, Emil Stohr and Rico.
Sanchez and Arredondo take up most of the time in the box, but Perez likes to keep extra goalies around. Especially after last year’s JV team saw three of them go down with an injury in the same game.
“I’d rather have extra keepers than none,” Perez said.
Perez—who played at NMC and graduated in 2001—returned to the campus as coach. He attended CSU Monterey Bay where he played on the Otters’ soccer team from 2001-02 and later earned a bachelor degree.
He shares his experience with the players in hopes of preparing them for the next level if they want to attend a junior college or university.
“It’s been great but like I said it’s my first year,” Perez said. “It’s new to me but I’m getting the hang of it. It’s really exciting to be the coach, I really like it and I enjoy it…I think we have a great team.”
Perez mentioned that the season is short and sometimes it takes players time to find team chemistry. Yet, he believes there’s a good chance for them to battle it out against their Cypress Division foes.
The Condors had Wednesday evening’s league opener against Monte Vista Christian postponed due to flood watch warnings and harsh weather conditions.
NMC will give it another try on Friday when it travels to Pacific Grove to take on the Breakers in league play. Kickoff is slated for 5:45pm.
*Additional reporting was done by sports editor Juan Reyes.