Aptos High senior Diego Tiran has seven goals this season for the Mariners boys' soccer team. (Raul Ebio/special to The Pajaronian)

APTOS—No matter how much a team prepares, speed bumps can hinder a season in the blink of an eye. 

For the Aptos High boys’ soccer team, their ability to endure and overcome these speed bumps has contributed to their success. From injuries and Covid-19 protocols, to a loss in their Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League opener, they’ve seen it all. 

Senior goalkeeper Ulises Hernández, who had four saves in the Mariners’ 3-2 victory over Soquel High on Jan. 20, is coming back from his injury. He currently has 37 saves for Aptos this season.

“I’ve been dealing with a sprained ankle,” Hernández said. “Minor injuries, it’s been light play, but I’m working my senior year off.” 

It was the second meeting between both teams. The Mariners suffered a 3-1 loss to the Knights in the teams’ league opener on Jan. 4. 

Since then, Aptos has been able to respond with five wins and one draw, including a 2-0 win against Santa Cruz High on Thursday night. They own a 10-3-2 overall record and are 5-1-1 in SCCAL play this season.

“Getting a win this day was good,” Aptos forward Fredys Abrego said after last week’s redemption win against the Knights. “That’s what we were aiming for today.” 

Abrego tallied two assists in their victory over the Knights. He leads the team with nine goals and five assists. Diego Tiran has recorded seven goals for the Mariners and teammate Joey Mackle scored a pair of goals in their win against the Cardinals, giving him seven goals this season. 

“Being part of the team, it’s been a good year this year,” Abrego said. “We work a lot during practice.” 

Hernández, who had two saves in Thursday’s win, said the team feels great, and hopes to finish out the season strong. 

“Our goal is to give it our best, like every season,” he said. “Put in the work during practice, and it shows in our game.” 

The Mariners are led by coach Roberto Zuniga, who has run the boys’ program since the 2012-13 season. He said this season has been going well and they’ve been preparing, both mentally and physically, for what seems to be a battle each night.

Zuniga said regardless of the opponent, they don’t take anyone lightly. 

“We know that no game is easy and we prepare one game at a time,” he said. 

Zuniga commended Hernández for working hard and coming back from his injury. 

“[Hernández] has been a wonderful person to have on the back line as a senior, and has been one of the top keepers in the league,” Zuniga said. 

On the defensive line, Zuniga highlighted standout defenseman Nate Dow, who has three goals and two assists for the Mariners.

“[Dow] has been very vocal in directing our defense,” Zuniga said. “He has been a key player for us for the last 12-15 games we’ve played so far.” 

Like many teams around the state, the battle for Aptos has not just been against other high schools but also against Covid-19. 

Hernández said the team is no stranger to having to work around the pandemic, with a few players having tested positive.

Zuniga has emphasized to the team the importance of being extra careful during practices.

“We have been very careful in masking up and trying to stay healthy,” Zuniga said. “If we see someone that isn’t healthy, we send them home.” 

Over the course of the season Aptos has had to adapt to players being out because of Covid-19 protocols. But, they’ve shown their resilience and hunger for the top spot in the league.

“Having a starting player out did affect us, but nonetheless we were able to play through,” Zuniga said. “It gives us the sense that we have depth on our field, because we have players ready to pick up the slack if need be.” 

Aptos was ready to face off against defending Central Coast Section champion Harbor High (5-1-0, 3-1-0) on Tuesday. However, their match was postponed to Feb. 9 due to some Pirates’ players who had positive Covid cases.

The Mariners will host San Lorenzo Valley (3-7-1, 1-6-0) on Feb. 1 at 5pm.


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