By MARTY JAMES
Napa Valley College lost seven straight nonconference matches to start the 2021 men’s soccer season.
The Storm was 0-7 at the time, with three of those defeats by shutout, as it headed into the Bay Valley Conference season.
A 3-1 loss to College of Marin-Kentfield on September 28 put Napa Valley at 0-8 on the season. It was the low point.
“I think that was the turnaround, where the guys made this happen,” Napa Valley coach Rogelio Ochoa said. “The team collectively got together. They understood what was on the line, which was a conference title. And since then, we didn’t look back. The guys just had a different chip on the shoulder. They had a different mentality and it got us to where we’re at now.”
Where Napa Valley is now is at the very top of the Bay Valley standings and on its way to the California Community College Athletic Association-Northern California Regional playoffs.
A 2-1 win on Tuesday, November 9 over Yuba College-Marysville at Napa Memorial Stadium – achieved in dramatic fashion – gave Napa Valley the BVC title, its fourth consecutive conference championship.
Midfielder Josiah Gutierrez’s unassisted goal at the 22nd-minute mark of the first half gave the Storm (8-10-1 overall, 8-1-1 Bay Valley) an early 1-0 lead in a showdown of co-BVC leaders.
The Storm won it on striker Emmanuel Duran’s goal on an assist from Jacob Peppard, playing left wing, during added time late in the second half. It was in the 90th minute.
“This is the fourth (title) in a row. These guys worked hard for this one,” said Ochoa. “Again, we’re 0-8, and to turn it around and to win it literally in the last minute, it just shows character and shows that they believe in the program.
“During the first eight games, they understood the system, they understood what we were trying to do, playing a style of soccer. They committed to it, they stuck to it, and we turned it around.”
It was Napa Valley’s second win of the season over Yuba. The Storm beat Yuba, 1-0, on October 12 as Duran scored a second-half goal from 25 yards out, coming in the 80th minute, on an assist from Gutierrez, a left wing.
“Since (Monday), coach has been telling us we’re coming in today to just try to win,” said Edgar Correa-Saenz, a defender. “So we all had that mindset, even during warmups. Everybody was just locked in and focused. Our main goal today was just to win. It doesn’t matter how pretty. Just score a goal and win. We were able to get that, the clincher.”
It was a titanic matchup between the Bay Valley’s top two teams, with everything on the line – the conference title and the automatic berth into the CCCAA-Northern California Regional playoffs starting on November 20 with Round 1.
Napa Valley and Yuba were tied for first place, with identical 7-1-1 records in the Bay Valley, going into the final game of the regular season. The game was moved to Memorial Stadium due to field conditions at NVC caused by recent rains.
“A lot of memories, for sure, as I’ve played a countless amount of games here,” midfielder Marco Manzo said of the stadium. “A little nostalgic, for sure. It means a lot to be here because it’s my home and it’s where I grew up. So you’ve got to defend your home. You have got to have that much more grit and fire.”
It was cloudy and cool with a light rain.
The defense for Napa Valley was outstanding all day. Jesus Tapia, the Storm’s keeper, made 12 saves.
“I can’t say enough. (Tapia) kept us in the game. He had three saves, where he just put his body on the line and he saved us,” said Ochoa.
“You have got to take your hats off to Yuba. They came here to play and they gave us a tough fight. Defensively, I thought that we were strong. A few times when they did get past us (Tapia) did a phenomenal job.”
There were joyous celebrations on the field, following the game-winning goal, and after the game on the field and in the team room. A team photo of the Storm was taken.
“Today was a big day. There’s a lot of excitement going into this game and our team was ready for a hard battle,” said Billy Biondini, a striker. “We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game. Our defense was playing very good. They’re keeping us in the game. Tapia had like five game-saving saves. He played very well. He even took some shots where he was slow getting up. He was able to play through the pain. He flew over out of nowhere multiple times for saves.
“Our offense just kept battling. The Yuba defense was one of the stronger defenses that we have played this season. So they weren’t making it easy at all. But we kept just trying to play with a lot of intensity, trying to get our passes. We eventually were able to hit a long ball to Jacob and he was able to get the assist for (Duran) to put one away – a beautiful shot.”
Gutierrez’s goal came off a corner kick from 20 yards out.
Duran scored off a crossing pass from Peppard and connected from close range into the top left corner.
“(Duran) got to the end of it. He got the ball, turned, took a player on, got a shot off, and it went in,” said Ochoa.
It’s the third win in a row for Napa Valley, which has a 7-2-1 mark over its last 10 games. Yuba had a three-game win streak snapped.
“It takes a while to get in a rhythm when you have a new group of players,” said Manzo. “We’re a completely different team from the beginning of the season to the end. And as soon as conference started, we just took off with our feet running full speed and haven’t really looked back.
“We’ve been improving each and every game. Today was one of those days where it’s maybe not the prettiest, but it’s a championship game. You have just got to do whatever it takes to win. It doesn’t have to be any specific way. Just get the ball in the net.”
Thanks to treatment that he has been getting from NVC’s athletic training staff for a knee injury that he suffered a week ago, Correa-Saenz was able to take the field and play for the Storm.
“I’m happy I got the chance to play today. With the great trainers that we have here, they were able to assess it and I’ve been doing all the rehab to make sure I could be out here today. And it was just really great,” said Correa-Saenz.
“It’s really an amazing feeling.”
It was 1-1 at halftime. Yuba (10-8-1 overall, 7-2-1 BVC) scored in the first half, at the 32nd minute.
CCCSIA men’s soccer poll
Eight Northern California teams, led by No. 1 Foothill-Los Altos Hills (15-0-2), are listed in the California Community College Sports Information Association men’s soccer poll, announced in a report by the California Community College Athletic Association on November 9 at www.cccaasports.org.
Also in the poll:
No. 2 Hartnell-Salinas (15-1-2), No. 5 Folsom Lake (11-2-5), No. 8 De Anza-Cupertino (11-1-5), No. 9 Merced (10-2-6), No. 13 Butte-Oroville (10-3-2), No. 15 Evergreen Valley-San Jose (10-4-3), No. 19 American River-Sacramento (11-5-2).
* Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 2019 after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016 and the Vintage High School Athletic Hall of Fame in September of 2019.