Following humbling defeats to Bishop O’Dowd in football and basketball, it was up to the Berkeley High School (BHS) soccer program to restore some balance to the heated rivalry. Last Wednesday, January 17, Bishop O’Dowd boys varsity soccer team visited BHS, and tensions ran high as the rivalry was showcased in all of its glory.
The weather was dreadful, with a dark sky and rain storm drenching the players and fans. Yet the stands held dozens of BHS students, reflecting the magnitude of the occasion. The sounds of the storm were drowned out by cheers led by dedicated BHS seniors Oscar Ashley and Lev Ami. Of BHS soccer games, Ashley simply said, “There is no feeling like watching a Berkeley High soccer team play at Jacket Stadium … I think I’ve only missed three or four games this year.” He went on to describe the energy that Berkeley plays with, and how it sets them apart from other teams.
The downpour did little to dampen Berkeley’s spirits, with the Jackets winning the game 2-1 thanks to goals from junior Kalani Kossa-Rienzi and senior Jacob Greenberg-Bell. Kossa-Rienzi’s goal extended his goal scoring streak to nine consecutive games. Three games later, and the streak continues. Kossa-Rienzi is now placed second in the goal scoring charts for Division 1 of the North Coast Section (NCS).
Senior Eli Kane declared that “winning games at home in front of the supporters is a great feeling, especially when it’s against rivals as big O’Dowd.” While O’Dowd holds the upper hand in many sports, the last time their boys soccer team beat Berkeley was all the way back in February of 2016.
The same cannot be said of the girls program, who, prior to Thursday, January 24, had not beaten O’Dowd since January of 2015. This drought made last week’s 1-0 victory all the more exciting. Though the score suggests a close game, it hardly does justice to the overall domination that the Jackets exhibited. The goal came from Rayna Carter, Berkeley’s leading goal scorer and the eighth highest goal scorer in Division I of North Coast Section (NCS). Given that she is still only a sophomore, she will likely be terrorizing opposing defences for years to come.
“I can’t think of a more satisfying win we’ve had all year,” said first-year head coach Alejandro Mendoza. “Everyone on the roster deserves a round of applause for sticking together through thick and thin while understanding what it means to be a team. To see how hard everyone worked and come out on the winning side in a match up that’s haunted us for years is truly amazing.”
The Jackets’ performance against O’Dowd reflects the significant improvements that the team has undergone this year. Prior to the season, question marks surrounded the Jackets. With a new coach and just eight seniors, there were concerns regarding the inexperience of their leadership team. However, these preseason apprehensions were quickly forgotten.
Mendoza has cultivated positive team spirit, and the senior leadership is largely responsible for the fantastic team culture among the team. The addition of a qualified assistant coaching team that features a former Yale University soccer player and current University of California Berkeley players, the load on Mendoza has been lightened slightly. Throw in a mix of young talent players, and the Jackets are playing their best soccer in years. Their 10-3-1 record is a testament to this. All of this means that the Jackets are well placed for a top eight seed when the NCS tournament arrives in early February. If the Jackets are seeded in the top eight then this would ensure home field advantage for the first round of NCS, and are on track to improve on the quarterfinal exit in last year’s playoffs.
The boys team is not a stranger to the heartbreak of an early NCS exit either, having been eliminated in the quarterfinal last year. Their undefeated 16-0-3 record thus far suggests, however, that the Jackets have put last year’s struggles behind them. With NCS approaching, the boys team is poised for a minimum of a top four seed, ensuring that the Jackets will have at least two home games in NCS, assuming that they survive the preliminary rounds of the single-elimination tournament.
Only time will tell how both teams will fare come NCS time, but both are in excellent form entering the latter stages of their respective seasons. It’s up to the Jacket community to create an atmosphere that truly provides an advantage to the home team. Classmates, teachers, friends, family, and all community members are welcome. Soccer fan or not, you will not want to miss February’s NCS games.