(Photos by Joy Feng)
When Aleeha B. first arrived at the Upper School during the 2016–2017 school year, she was disappointed to learn that there was no girls soccer team. In only its fourth year of existence and with far fewer students than it has today, the Upper School was still building its athletics program. Aleeha and two older female students settled for their next best option—they tried out for the boys team.
“That was a really eye-opening experience for me being a small freshman girl playing against twelfth-grade boys,” recalled Aleeha, now a senior. “I had to rely on my skill rather than being physical.”
The experience only emboldened her and her fellow female players, who were determined to start a girls team the following year. They lobbied the athletics director and recruited interested players with various levels of experience. There were girls with extensive club experience and “girls who played once in third grade,” said Aleeha, who ran informal Sunday practice sessions for teammates at neighborhood fields.
Even with enough players, entering the Private School Athletic League (PSAL) wasn’t a given. “Our first year, we didn’t play in the league,” said coach Daniel Zerabruk, who had previously coached some of the players during their years at the Middle School. “We had to prove ourselves [through scrimmages].”
In its first two official years in the PSAL, the team has done more than proven itself. “Since joining the PSAL, the team has gone undefeated, 20-0-1, and earned two straight Central Coast Section (CCS) postseason appearances,” said Athletic Director Chris Wade, who also noted that, in addition to being league champions, the team earned recognition as a CCS Scholastic Team Champion for having the highest team GPA in their CCS Section.
“It was amazing to see how through a combination of working as a team and wanting to be there so badly we were able to win all our games,” said Aleeha.
In addition to its collective accomplishments, the team is also garnering attention for the success of individual players. Junior attacking midfielder Gaelen C. recently received Athlete of the Week honors by the San Mateo Daily Journal for her three goals and three assists against Design Tech, which was also her third hat trick (scoring three goals in one game) of the season.
“It’s an honor,” said Gaelen, who is already being recruited by college programs. “PSAL teams don’t usually get athletic recognition because the San Mateo Daily Journal takes into account all athletes in all sports in all divisions, so this is a lot more impressive than even being named athlete of the week for just the Division V teams.”
“She is one of the most exceptional talents I’ve coached in the women’s game,” said Daniel. “She’s dedicated as an athlete, she has a fantastic soccer IQ, exquisite soccer skills, and the most admiral quality she has is just her passion and professionalism.”
The future is bright for the Nueva girls soccer program. While this season has come to an end with a CCS playoffs quarterfinals loss against Sacred Heart Prep, there is a lot to be excited about in the coming years.
“When I came to Nueva as a freshman, I didn’t know what the team was going to be like, but I wasn’t expecting it to have as much success as it’s had in its first couple of years,” added Gaelen. “This is a really great environment to play in.”