The optimism meter is higher than ever for the Aptos High boys’ soccer team following some success during the non-league portion of its regular season schedule.
Senior attacking midfielder Eddie Alvarez is leading a group of speedy wingers on the outside that have been opening up the field wide and causing problems for opposing defenders.
“We have that speed this year, I feel like we’re gonna be a good team this year because of our pace,” Alvarez said.
The Mariners began their Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League season with a crushing 5-1 win over San Lorenzo Valley High in the teams’ league opener on Jan. 12.
However, they did just suffer a 3-2 loss to Soquel High on Wednesday night, dropping them to 1-1 in league play.
The Knights scored in the 8th and 21st minutes. Nicolas Topete cut the deficit in half with a goal for Aptos in the 37th. The assist was credited to junior co-captain Nami Banks.
Soquel extended the lead to 3-1 with a penalty kick in the 65th minute. With time winding down, Alvarez notched his 17th goal of the season in the 77th.
Aptos fought back with multiple shots, but neither of them could find the back of the net.
Despite the loss, Aptos head coach Roberto Zuñiga said this year’s group is most likely his best since taking over the program in the early 2000s.
“We have speed, we have technical, we have a lot of folks that could put the ball in the back of the net, not just Eddie [Alvarez],” Zuñiga said. “So, it is one of the best teams that I’ve had in a while, for sure.”
Alvarez said the new guys coming up in the ranks are mature enough to know what they’re doing on the pitch. He has confidence the youngsters will improve as fellow co-captains in senior Esteban Garcia and Banks continue to step up to help, as well.
“I think the chemistry on top, especially, has been going very well,” Banks said. “The passing, the moving, especially on defense. Our defense has been very solid this year and I’m really proud of them.”
Returning goalkeeper Noah Curran has kept his uniform clean most of the season with Aptos playing lockdown defense, allowing just 13 goals in 11 games played.
“I believe that we got a very, very solid defense with all the back playing club,” Zuñiga said.
Leading the defense is Andrew Lopez and Garcia, who is currently playing the center midfield position.
Garcia’s goal is to bring home an SCCAL crown and earn a bid to the Central Coast Section playoffs.
“We’re hungry and we’re not letting anything go by us,” he said.
In 2022-23, the Mariners finished with a 12-7 overall record and placed second in the SCCAL standings with an 8-2 record in league play behind defending champion Harbor High.
Their season was cut short following a 2-0 loss to Menlo-Atherton High in the Division III quarterfinals.
Aptos has seven seniors returning from last year’s group, along with five juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen. Most of the players train together outside of practice and compete for club teams, as well.
Banks believes they have the potential to be one of the best teams in Aptos history. He also wants to capture an SCCAL title but took it further by hoping for a CCS championship ring.
“I think as a captain we’re trying to keep the team together and keep them motivated, keep them inspired throughout the season,” Banks said. “That will, I think, give us the win.”
Banks—who started on varsity since he was a freshman—will find himself at either defensive midfielder, center midfielder or attacking center midfielder. He’s become a well-rounded player who is physical, strong, fast and can definitely shoot the ball.
“We’re relying on those core players (Alvarez, Banks, Garcia) that are returning,” Zuñiga said.
Others to watch this season include senior midfielder Carlos Gutierrez and senior defender Elliot Burge, who Zuñiga commended for being fully committed to the program.
“If things go right throughout the season, we should be able to perform well,” Zuñiga said.
Alvarez and company are more motivated than ever, especially after losing out on their chance of at least sharing the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League championship.
Instead, they saw the league crown slip into the hands of Harbor High, which is already off to a 2-0 start in league action following a 5-0 win against Scotts Valley on Jan. 12 and a 3-0 victory over San Lorenzo Valley on Wednesday.
“We know what we’re capable of doing and we know what we can accomplish as a team,” Alvarez said.
The Mariners play at Santa Cruz on Friday, followed by an anticipated match at home against Harbor on Jan. 24. Both games slated to kick off at 7pm.