APTOS — She streaks down the pitch pushing the ball forward ever so slightly yard by yard. She has a teammate trailing in a full sprint to her left and two defenders in front of her rushing toward the final 20 in a backpedal. In a split second, she checks over her shoulder, fakes right, freezing the defenders for a crucial split second and dishes a perfect pass to her teammate for a score. The crowd cheers, fans of both home and away teams, knowing they just saw something special.
Monserrat Hernandez Marquez can’t explain what she sees, or how she does it, but she makes the extraordinarily difficult look mundane every time she steps on the field. Her head coach at Aptos High, Jessica Perkin, calls her a “magician.” Her teammates say she was born with a magnet for the ball in her feet.
“It just happens,” she said. “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s natural. It comes to me.”
Unexplainable and, many times this season, unstoppable, Hernandez Marquez had a gigantic junior year for the Mariners, earning numerous individual and team honors throughout the season. Now, the Register-Pajaronian is adding another achievement to her growing list, naming her our Girl’s Soccer Player of the Year.
With Hernandez Marquez behind the wheel of the program, Aptos won its fourth straight Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League championship and made history as the first program since the turn of the century to win the league with a perfect 12-0 record. The Mariners also made their 10th straight Central Coast Section playoff appearance, qualifying for the ever-challenging Open Division for the second consecutive season.
Individually, the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo commit was named the SCCAL’s Most Valuable Player — the first junior to earn the honor since Lauren Miller in 2007-08 — and finished fifth in goals (20) and second in assists (11) among hundreds of players from around the Monterey Bay.
“In past years I knew I could do something like that,” said Hernandez Marquez, who was the league’s Forward of the Year last season. “This year it became real. I could really do this.”
Hernandez Marquez said she grew up in a family of soccer players, learning the game from her father, Javier, and older brother, Bryan, as well as her numerous cousins — all boys. She said she started she playing soccer at 4 and quickly fell in love with the game.
Her natural feel for the ball has been with her since the first time she laced up the cleats. She remembers playing on a co-ed recreation team with her cousin at the age of 6 and scoring a mess of goals. The legend of “Mini Messi,” a nickname Perkin gave her as a freshman at Aptos, began.
“A lot of people said I had potential,” Hernandez said.
Eventually she found her way to the Santa Cruz Breakers program at the age of 9 and played under coach Ashley Edgar, who she said had a big impact on her because of his overwhelming belief in her ability to be great. She now plays for Heidi Romswinckel and travels all over the coast and country playing against some of the top competition the nation has to offer.
So when she arrived at Aptos as a freshman, it was not a surprise that she made an immediate impact. She finished second in goals and assists in her first high school season and was named an All-SCCAL First Team selection. The following season she again led the team in goals and assists, while helping the Mariners notch their first-ever CCS Open Division win.
This season, Hernandez Marquez took another step with her play and her voice, becoming a stronger leader in all aspects. She bailed out the Mariners several times in their quest for an SCCAL four-peat, scoring four game-winners in critical league games and helping her team extend its league unbeaten streak to 40. Yet, Hernandez Marquez said her favorite thing to do on the pitch is to set up teammates for scores.
“Scoring is definitely nice but with passing you can make the play,” she said. “I think that’s the most important thing.”
Hernandez Marquez said she hasn’t taken time off since the Mariners’ season came to an end in the first round of CCS to nationally ranked Mountain View. She’s been playing soccer and training on her own as well, spending time in the gym and running sprints to increase the speed of her game. She said she also wants to make small mental improvements, like increasing her field of view on an attack, to her game heading into her senior season.
“Knowing where everyone else is on the field,” she said. “I think that was really important.”
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
• Gabby Felix, Watsonville - Watsonville High junior striker Gabby Felix scored 25 goals — the second most in the Monterey Bay — and led the Wildcatz to the Monterey Bay League Pacific division championship, which was the program’s first league title since the 2011-12 season.
Felix was named the MBL-P Player of the Year for scoring 17 goals in league play and helping Watsonville to a 9-1-1 league record. She also earned a spot on the MBL-P First Team.
COACH OF THE YEAR
• Gladys Mondragon, Watsonville - Watsonville High’s longtime head coach Gladys Mondragon took a youthful team and made it into a contender in the MBL-P and in CCS.
The Wildcatz not only won the MBL-P title but played toe-to-toe with Woodside High, a program that had won two section titles in the past five years entering the CCS playoffs. Mondragon’s squad lost 1-0 but set the tone for the coming years in the defeat.
Watsonville finished with a 11-4-4 overall record.
Aptos junior forward Paige Dueck and junior midfielder Maya Pruett were on the receiving end of Hernandez Marquez’s crisp passes and did not miss much, scoring eight goals apiece.
Dueck, who also had six assists, was named the SCCAL’s Offensive Player of the Year and Pruett earned a spot on the All-SCCAL First Team.
Watsonville junior midfielder Annalee Robledo wore many hats for the Wildcatz this season but excelled at finding Felix with perfectly placed long balls. Robledo, who was also a defensive ace, was named the MBL-P’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Monte Vista Christian had a tough time winning games in the MBL-Gabilan division but senior midfielder/forward Lauren Winkler was a bright spot for the Mustangs yet again. Winkler earned her fourth straight all-league First Team selection this season.
The Mariners defense was airtight this season and juniors Grace Rothman and Mary McGinn and freshman Brynn Mitchell were all responsible for its stinginess. Aptos allowed just one goal over its last seven league games and surrendered five over their entire 12-game SCCAL season. Rothman earned an All-SCCAL First Team selection, while McGinn and Mitchell were named to the Second Team.
North Monterey County High’s junior Marcella Gudiel and her strong, physical challenges helped the Condors compete in the MBL-P this season. She was named the MBL-P’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Watsonville’s senior keeper Ina Gonzalez, who will play for Cal State East Bay next season, kept the Wildcatz in several games throughout the year and won many others with her leaping saves. Her most impressive outing came against North Salinas High, a game in which she finished with 12 saves and helped Watsonville clinch the MBL-P championship.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Monserrat Hernandez Marquez >> Aptos, Junior, Midfielder
Gabby Felix >> Watsonville, Junior, Striker
COACH OF THE YEAR
Gladys Mondragon >> Watsonville
>> Gabby Felix; Watsonville, Junior
>> Paige Dueck; Aptos, Junior
>> Annalee Robledo; Watsonville, Junior
>> Monserrat Hernandez Marquez; Aptos, Junior
>> Lauren Winkler; Monte Vista Christian; Senior
>> Maya Pruett; Aptos, Junior
>> Grace Rothman; Aptos, Junior
>> Brynn Mitchell; Aptos, Freshman
>> Mary McGinn; Aptos, Junior
>> Marcella Gudiel; North Monterey County, Junior
>> Ina Gonzalez; Watsonville, Senior