Benefield: Young Cardinal Newman girls soccer squad wants to join NBL elite
By kerry benefield | Sep 4, 2016

Last year, the Cardinal Newman girls soccer team was young and talented. This year, the Cardinal Newman girls soccer team is young and talented.

The difference?

This year, almost all of their anterior cruciate ligaments are in place and where they ought to be.

The Newman squad suffered a nearly unfathomable four ACL tears last season, either when the players were suiting up for the Cardinals or for the club team. The injuries hobbled a team that, although young, was making some noise in the North Bay League.

Expect that noise to get louder this year.

“Personally, since I was out with one of the injuries, I want to come out this year and just destroy everyone,” said captain and senior Lauren Miller. “I want to show them that we can be so much more.”

The baseline is last year. The Cardinals went 10-11-1 overall and 5-8-1 in league. But, oh, those injuries.

“We gave everything we had,” said senior Dani Gilson.

Gilson, perhaps more than any other Cardinal, gave to the collective good. A talented midfielder, she took over goalkeeping duties for the first time since she was perhaps 8, to help fill a void. Other coaches around the Empire noted the selflessness — Gilson had the goods to post a standout year, but played where she was needed.

Team is big to Gilson. When she talks about the Cardinals’ new crop of super freshmen, she doesn’t start with their talent, she starts with their understanding the meaning of team.

“They are proving themselves to us,” she said. “For us, it’s not just ‘Here is your jersey, you can play with us.’ ”

“I’m OK with walking away with a loss if we play for each other,” she said.

The Cardinals might not have to settle for too many losses.

In addition to Gilson and Miller, the Cardinals’ roster includes captain and junior Maddi Foster and freshmen Lea Stockham, Claire Hernandez and, taking over goalkeeping duties, Paige Foster.

The youngsters are likely to make an immediate impact.

“The freshmen this year, I think they really are just going to come out and show everyone who’s boss,” Miller said. “They might be young but they are super talented, and I think they’ll be very dominant in the league, and I’m just very impressed with them so far.”

The NBL will again have powerhouses Maria Carrillo, winners of five consecutive North Coast Section titles, and Montgomery in the hunt for a league banner. But Newman, along with a talented Ukiah squad, should be in the hunt. Or at least make things interesting.

“While Carrillo and Montgomery are two of the better teams, still, in the NBL, I think the gap between Maria Carrillo and Montgomery has closed,” said the Cardinals’ coach, John Gilson. “Do I think Newman is in that area of the closure? Yeah, I do. Do I think we are better than them? You have to go out and line it up and play them and see if you are.”

Gilson, who takes over this season for Paul Dixon, coached at Ursuline for 12 years before it closed in 2011 and has coached with Santa Rosa United for 24 years. His biggest concern for his squad — and who can blame him with the Cardinals’ run of injuries last year — is wear and tear on a smallish number of players.

“For me, it’s going to come down to, with the talent that we have, are the pieces there to compete? Absolutely. We’ll compete. The question is, will we have enough in the tank, will we be deep enough?” he said.

“It’s a small roster,” he said.

Meaning all of his kids are likely to get playing time, and he’s OK with that.

“My whole belief is that I have to make all 16 players believe that they are a part of this,” he said.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

Cardinal Newman's Lauren Miller, second from left, controls the ball while defended by Windsor's Madi Baer, left, during a girls varsity soccer scrimmage match between Windsor and Cardinal Newman high schools, in Santa Rosa, California on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)