By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Playing up to expectations going along with six straight conference women’s soccer titles, Santa Rosa Junior College begins its title defense today with another strong squad.
Losing just once in six nonleague games, Santa Rosa is ranked third in Northern California and eighth in California going into Big 8 Conference play.
Santa Rosa has shown few weaknesses on the young season. Scoring has not been a problem for a Bear Cubs team with seven different players booting goals and a like number registering assists. Defense is a strength with opponents netting less than a goal per contest.
“We’ve done a lot good sooner than expected,” said Christina Rebata, out of Casa Grande High. “There’s moments where we’re really good. We just have to find more consistency.”
Despite the strong start, Santa Rosa players recognize conference play will challenge the Bear Cubs in their quest for a state title.
See the ladies in action here
The Big 8 Conference sent seven teams to last season’s California Community College Athletic Association state playoffs. Santa Rosa was upset in the second round by league foe American River.
“Whenever we beat somebody in conference it’s a big win. They are prepared and refocused for conference,” Santa Rosa coach Tracy Hamm said.
Following a weekend layoff, Santa Rosa was back at practice Monday working on fitness, skills and team play ahead of today’s conference opener at home against Cosumnes River.
Highly ranked, Santa Rosa has been rewarded for hard work. Yet the Bear Cubs are far from satisfied.
“We have a real connected team,” Rebata said. “Once we get used to playing together we’re going to be a really good team.”
Santa Rosa is young in college game experience. Only two starters return from a year ago and one — Holle Depina — has been out with mononucleosis. Four other players are back after sitting out last season, including Rebata and twin sister Courtney.
That the players are finding a rhythm on the field is apparent in the scoring spread. Christina Rebata leads with four goals and is the conference’s scoring leader. Jill Andersen, from Santa Rosa High, is second in the conference with three assists.
“We’ve got players all over the field assisting and scoring. They’ve done really well so far,” Hamm said.
A pair of newcomers who have become key starters are midfielder Taylor Halstenson, from Casa Grande, and defender Liz Borders, out of Rancho Cotate. Both were high school all-league players who made great improvements over the past year.
“Girls have stepped up to fill roles and have done a great job,” Hamm said.
Playing with urgency on both ends of the field, Santa Rosa shows the confidence of a team aiming for a state title.
“We’re a very aggressive team the whole game,” Depina said. “We push and pass real well. We have high pressure on defense.”
Forcing high tempo play can create scoring opportunities and cause mistakes by opponents. Santa Rosa has a deep bench to keep fresh legs on the field.
The one match that didn’t go to Santa Rosa so far this season was a shutout loss at City College of San Francisco, a top 10 Northern California team.
“Hopefully that’s a wakeup call,” Christina Rebata said. “We’re going to have to work for everything. There’s a lot left to do.”
First is winning another conference championship. While the Bear Cubs are early favorites, Sierra, Cosumnes River and American River also are top 10 Northern California teams.
A deep playoff push to reach the state final four and take home another title is an annual aim for Santa Rosa. This season’s team recognized the potential for a special season at the first practice.
“There’s great chemistry with the girls,” Depina said. “We’re a pretty strong team.”
BEAR CUBS’ DOMINATION CONTINUES
Ranked third in Northern California, eighth in California
Seeking seventh straight Big 8 Conference title
Won CCCAA state title in 2011
Cosumnes River at Santa Rosa JC, 3:30 p.m.