APTOS—It was only a matter of time for Gina Castañeda to become the new head coach of the Aptos High girls soccer program.
But there was always that burning question of when she would take the helm.
The wait is over.
The school recently announced that Castañeda will take over coaching duties this winter after former coach Carlos Bover stepped down during the summer.
Castañeda said she knew one day she’d end up as a coach for one of the local high schools, but the Aptos alumna said she was drawn to her alma mater from the beginning.
Once a Mariner, always a Mariner.
“I’m a true Mariner at heart,” she said. “It’s like going home to run a program.”
In 2010, Castañeda was inducted into the Aptos High School Hall of Fame and in 2018 she was part of the soccer program’s inaugural hall of fame class. She was a four-year varsity starter from 1989-93, and part of the squad that won the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League championship in 1990 and 1992.
Castañeda was a four-year all-league first-team selection, leading the Mariners to four straight trips to the Central Coast Section postseason.
In 1992, she was selected as the SCCAL Offensive Player of the Year.
Since then, she’s been coaching at various schools and recently became the team administrator for Cal North’s Olympic Development Program.
Aptos athletic director Travis Fox said it was important to bring in a coach who has the local connections, especially someone that’s been involved with the soccer community.
“She’s a big part of Santa Cruz soccer, especially here in (Pajaro Valley Unified School District) and Aptos High School,” he said. “She’s a legend in a lot of ways. I’m happy for her that she gets to come back home.”
Fox said the program was left in good shape after the departure of Bover, who led the Mariners to a 12-2 overall record through the abbreviated Covid-19 spring season.
He won both the SCCAL regular season and tournament titles in the 2019-20 season.
Prior to that, Jordyn Ryfiak took over the program for the 2018 season and Jessica Perkin was the program’s longest-tenured coach from 2010 to 2017.
Perkin led the Mariners to five straight league titles (‘13-14, ‘14-15, ‘15-16, ‘16-17, ‘17-18) and qualified for the CCS playoffs in each season.
Castañeda was on board to become the head coach a couple of years ago. But her daughter, Jazmine, who was on the Mariners’ varsity team from 2017-20, asked her mom not to take the job.
“[Jazmine] was coming in as a freshman and she wanted to prove that she could be on the varsity team and not because her mom was her coach,” Castañeda said.
Castañeda said the program has produced some of the most talented players in Santa Cruz County, including Brynn Mitchell who is now playing for St. Mary’s College in Moraga.
“I just really wanted to stabilize it and grow the program, if anything,” she said.
Fox said he’s aware of the recent turnover rate for coaches within the program and added that it will be nice to have stability.
“We have a talented roster and I know [Castañeda] can develop that even further,” he said.
Castañeda is bringing in a coaching staff that includes assistant coach Cesar Padilla—former coach at Pajaro Valley High, JV head coach Hilda Corcoles and assistant coach Virginia Nosky.
Fox said all of the experience they bring should help develop players in the lower levels as they make their way to the top.
He said what stood out the most about Castañeda was hearing her talk about the philosophies for both soccer and what the sport can do for the student-athletes.
“[Castañeda] has this strong presence about her that’s special in a lot of ways,” he said.
Castañeda, who is a county probation officer, founded the Aztecas Youth Soccer Academy in 2008 for juvenile probationers who affiliate with both Norteño and Sureño gangs. The goal of the program was to steer those teens away from gangs and incarceration by connecting them with positive role models while using the beautiful game as an entry point.
She has also successfully run seven annual soccer camps, serving more than 175 youths per year from South Santa Cruz County to North Monterey County.
The 46-year old Watsonville native was raised in a family with gang ties but she swayed away from that lifestyle by resorting to sports. She took advice from former athletic director and track coach Mark Dorfman, who pushed her to play soccer.
“And I say that soccer saved my life because it did,” Castañeda said. “Mr. Dorfman had the biggest impact on my life. I am the person that I am today because I had a great coach and somebody that cared about me, and I want to do the same for the kids.”
Castañeda added that another reason she jumped on the coaching job was to show other young women, especially those of color, that anything is possible.
“If you have the drive, if you want to do it, you love it, whatever it is, that you can accomplish it,” she said.