Aztec girls claim first league championship title


Photo by Michael Ramirez
MTAL champion Soledad Lady Aztec team members are: (front row, from left) Aliyah Gonzales, Denise Virgen, Emily Tinajero and Xenia Suarez; (back row, from left) Celeste Villarreal, Desiree Mexicano, Theresa Chavez, Jacky Saldana, Coach Rubio, Coach Rodriguez, Paola Diaz, Olivia Fala, Daisy Bugarin and Iris Mexicano.

SOLEDAD — A first-ever Mission Trail Athletic League title in girls basketball brought tears of joy, huge smiles, and countless hugs on Friday for the champion Soledad girls team, their coaches, and their families. Last year’s 12 loss season is a distant memory to this group of players that practically lived on gym floors this year as they strived to finish as champions.

“Our goal in the last two games was just to stay focused,” said Soledad head coach Tatiana Rodriguez. “Accomplishing the goal of winning league still hasn’t sunk in yet as we are all still so excited right now. We came out strong and took a good lead in the Gonzales game and then they (Spartans), made like three 3-point shots to get back in the game. We regrouped and played our game the rest of the way. Against Santa Catalina we wanted to recognize our seniors by playing them to start the game. Santa Catalina kept it close at the start and trailed 10-8 at the end of the first quarter. We finished the half with a 28-4 run. In the second half our defense helped produce many fast break points that put the game out of reach and we won by a 80-27 score.”

At last Wednesday’s game at Gonzales the Aztecs defeated the host Spartans 63-43 and were led in scoring by sophomore guard Theresa Chavez who scored 16 points. Senior Xenia Saurez scored 14 points with two 3-point baskets and Jackie Saldana had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

In the blow out against Santa Catalina Emily Tinajero led the Aztecs with 19 points including 10 points in the second quarter and had three 3-point baskets. Saldana scored 15 points with one 3-point basket and Daisy Bugarin scored six points with 14 rebounds. Chavez added 10 points, with three breakaway baskets off passes from Saldana. Suarez finished the game with 10 points and 14 rebounds and Olivia Fale added nine points on three 3-point baskets.

“To finish the way we did in big games with King City and Stevenson were important to us,” said Jackie Saldana. We knew that if we could beat those teams and then beat PG (Pacific Grove) we could win league. Our hard work paid off.”

Soledad center Daisy Bugarin enjoyed being part of a team that never gave up and had players that were willing to sacrifice for each other.

“Everyone had something to offer that made our team better,” said Bugarin. “Some of us have played with each other in middle school or on travel teams and that made us stronger. We have all put in time to become a good team.”

Tinajero, a junior and the leading scorer in the title clinching game with Santa Catalina felt that chemistry was the key for the Lady Aztecs this season.

“It is good to have team chemistry and that we all get along,” said Tinajero. “This is a team where we have many players that can score points but they are willing to give up points to play tough defense to keep us in games.”

Coach Rodriguez praised her assistant coach Mike Rubio for helping her the last two seasons and for becoming such an asset to the program.

“I had met Coach Rubio on the travel teams that the girls play on and when I had the chance to move up the varsity I asked him to come up and help me,” said Rodriguez. “He encourages the players, teaches them the game, and I can count on him to give me good advice.”

Soledad hosted Capuchino High School of Burlingame last night in the first round of the Central Coast Section Division III Playoffs. Capuchino of the Peninsula Southern League was seeded #12 and had a 10-14 record. Soledad was 17-5 and received a home game as a league champion. The winner of the Soledad/Campuchino game will play on Thursday at #5 seed Soquel High School (13-10).