Aptos High junior Gwen Chapman has eight goals and three assists for the Mariners girls' soccer team this season. (Juan Reyes/The Pajaronian)

APTOS—When playing in a competitive league such as the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League, setting the tone is a crucial component if one wants to become a title contender. 

Aptos High senior Jazmine Castañeda along with a powerful Mariners girls’ soccer unit has done just that with a tremendous start this season.  

Castañeda, who comes in after returning from the U.S. West Region Olympic Development Top-18 traveling team, has Aptos sitting with a 10-1-1 overall record and 1-1-0 in league play.

She finished with three goals and three assists in the Mariners’ 10-0 victory against Harbor High in SCCAL action on Jan. 6. 

Castañeda has a team-leading 20 goals and 14 assists this season. She said her teammates’ unselfish passing and consistent effort have helped her reach those impressive statistics.

Alongside Castañeda are standouts junior Gwen Chapman, senior Ava Hymes and sophomore Ava Churchill, who each recorded goals against Harbor on Thursday. 

Chapman currently has eight goals, Hymes has four and Churchill has one goal and three assists. On the defense, there’s senior defender Kelsea Ford, who has three goals and five assists.

Sophomores Anahi Macias and Ella Shoemaker, both callups from the JV squad, have also contributed to Aptos’s success on the field. 

Senior goalie Kylie Nelson supports the team in goal with 22 saves this season, while backup junior goalie Angie Rodriguez has five saves. Both have allowed a combined seven goals and have recorded seven shutouts this year. 

“We are very strong because the girls are able to be dynamic,” Aptos coach Gina Castañeda said. “We have players that can play any position on the field, and fill that need.” 

However, the first-year head coach said the biggest challenge has been bringing the girls together. The team chemistry has been slowly building over the course of the season, especially with new additions to the team from the JV squad.

“[It’s] getting them to play as a unit and as a team,” Castañeda said. “And really holding each other up.” 

After having their league opener against Soquel High postponed due to Covid protocols, team morale was low. Now they’ll have to wait until Jan. 20 to play against the Knights.

“We were pretty bummed because Soquel is our rival,” Jazmine Castañeda said. “We were really excited for that game, we’ve been preparing all season.”

Aptos took another hit after Thursday’s league meeting against San Lorenzo Valley High was postponed due to Covid-19 protocols. Not to mention they were down three starters in their match against the Pirates. 

But they didn’t let that break their momentum.

“Even when we are down three of our starting players, you can see that we’re still able to come on the field and compete and play some really good soccer,” Gina Castañeda said. 

Aptos finished with a 9-2 overall record and was runner-up in the SCCAL during the abbreviated 2021 spring season. The Mariners earned a trip to the Central Coast Section playoffs but lost to Branham High in the Division I quarterfinals.

It’ll be another competitive season in league play as Aptos squares off against familiar opponents such as Santa Cruz High (3-0-1) and Soquel (4-1), the reigning league champion. 

The league also features Harbor High (4-5-1), Scotts Valley High (1-4-1) and San Lorenzo Valley High (1-4-1). 

The Mariners lost 3-2 to the Cardinals on Jan. 11 in the teams’ first league meeting this season.

Jazmine Castañeda said playing in a competitive league is fun. 

“We know that the competition is there,” she said. “It’s a good experience to grow not just as individuals but also as a team.”

The Mariners’ next match is scheduled against Scotts Valley on Jan. 18 at 7pm.

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