Posted By Press Democrat Staff Writer Michael Coit:

New coach, new players, no problem for the Santa Rosa Junior College women’s soccer team — top seed in the NorCal half of the state playoffs.

A league opening loss to Modesto is the only blemish on Santa Rosa’s record. That game woke up the Bear Cubs as Santa Rosa won its fifth straight Big Eight Conference title.

Now the goal is returning to the state final four and winning the California Community College Athletic Association championship. Santa Rosa lost last season’s final.

“We definitely didn’t like that feeling. We don’t want that to happen again,” said leading scorer Cara Curtin.

As the top seed in the Nor Cal half of the state tournament, Santa Rosa would host three contests to reach the final four.

“This is a whole new season. You just have to make sure that you’re playing the game as a playoff,” said Santa Rosa coach Luke Oberkirch, who moved over from Sonoma State.

Still, the Bear Cubs are confident and expect to make a deep playoff run.

Santa Rosa (15-1-3) is scoring three goals a game and giving up less than a goal per contest. Starting a handful of first-year players, the Bear Cubs have kept the winning beat going from a year ago.

Leading the scoring are the Curtin sisters — Cara and Lauren — from Maria Carrillo High. Cara is the returning conference most valuable player and Lauren was a first-team all-league pick last season despite neither sister playing the final three years of high school, running cross country and track instead.

With 28 goals so far, Cara Curtin topped her school record of 27 from a year ago.

“I’m better at getting into open spaces,” Cara Curtin said. “My footwork is better. I’m holding the ball more and thinking.”

Adding some punch to Santa Rosa’s scoring has been Christina Rebata, a freshman sparkplug off the bench from Casa Grande High.

A skilled midfield drives possessions and serves well. Team captains Lauren Romano — Santa Rosa High — and Lisa Shaw lead the play on both sides of the field and are among Santa Rosa’s assists leaders.

Where the Bear Cubs have improved most is on defense. Santa Rosa’s strengths are tying up balls all over the field and quick counterattacks.

“We really have made a conscious effort on working hard to get the ball back. Then we can feed off other teams’ mistakes,” Oberkirch said.

Anchoring the back line is Cami James, from Casa Grande, a stout defender not afraid to mark opposing players. Alex Coffaney, out of Montgomery High, is the other center back.

After playing both goalkeepers early, Oberkirch went with returning starter Tara Funk, from Petaluma High. A big reason was that freshman Ashley Luis, out of Casa Grande, has proven to be a skilled midfielder.

“We’ve had a lot of contributions from different people,” Oberkirch said.

Santa Rosa’s depth should again be an asset as it was last season in a bid for the state title. The Bear Cubs’ only loss a year ago was in the state title contest.

“We want to go all the way,” Cara Curtin said.