The Liberty High girls soccer team had a memorable trip to Fort Worth, Texas, last week, when it competed strongly at top facilities in the National Elite Prep Showcase.
Clearly, the adventure was about more than wins and losses.
"It was fantastic. It was great for the girls," Liberty coach Tony Martins said. "At the end of the tournament, I had a couple parents come up to me. They overheard a couple of the players saying that they came to Texas as a team and they're leaving as a family."
The Lions had a 1-2-1 record in the event, including a respectable 1-0 loss on an own goal against touted St. Thomas Aquinas (Florida), which entered with a 16-0-0 record.
Martins gives particularly high marks to Liberty's defending. The Lions allowed just four goals overall against powerhouses from Florida and Texas. Senior goalkeeper Gabby Ciccolella made numerous big saves.
Liberty also had a 1-0 win over Nolan Catholic-Texas, a 1-0 loss against Carroll-Texas and a 0-0 draw against Coppell-Texas.
"It was very common for a lot of the teams to say, 'Oh, we have seven Division I players.'" Martins said.
Liberty had traveled to a tournament in Las Vegas the previous two seasons, but Nevada switched its girls soccer season to the fall, so Martins began exploring other options. The facilities in Texas were awe-inspiring.
"Everything they say about Texas high school football is absolutely true," Martins said. "The last stadium we played in at Carroll-Southlake held 18,000 people and I believe an additional 7,000 standing ... Digital scoreboard, full media coaching boxes.
"Everything was just top-notch."
Erik Montes of Richmond, Jonathan Ayala of Ygnacio Valley and Rigo Castillo of Hayward are regarded as three of the most dangerous strikers in the East Bay.
One name that also should be mentioned is Dougherty Valley captain Anoop Gala, who entered the week tied for second in the East Bay in scoring.
"Whatever the team needs, he provides. Anything I ask of him as a player he attempts and usually does," Dougherty Valley coach Omar Cervantes said. "If I need him to sit in and hold as a defensive mid, he does it. If a center back gets injured and it's late, he drops and defends.
"If we need goals, we give him a free role. He is usually around the ball and can take over games on his own if needed."
The senior is also the Wildcats' leader.
"He's smart enough to put the team first and leads by example," Cervantes said. "He's the best captain I've had in terms of organizing the team on the field, off the field and from a motivational side."
-- Matt Smith, correspondent
James Logan is looking like a serious contender for this year's North Coast Section championship.
The Colts, who finished fourth as a team in the 2012 NCS Championship, presently have three wrestlers ranked 12th or higher in the state -- as listed by The California Wrestler magazine -- and two others in the top 40.
Leading the way for James Logan is senior Artemio Flores at 132 pounds. Flores, ranked ninth in the state behind Austin Solari of Liberty, went 3-2 and finished eighth at the Doc Buchanan Invitational in Clovis earlier this month and third at the Zinkin Classic at Buchanan High in December.
Flores is one of four returning Colts wrestlers who placed in the top four at last season's NCS championships.
The others are Jacob Macalolooy (now at 138 pounds), Jacob Donato (120 pounds) and Clayton Hartwell (195 pounds).
Of course, the road to any NCS title has to go through four-time defending champion De La Salle. The Spartans lost four section champions to graduation but presently have six wrestlers ranked in the top 35 in the state.
-- Curtis Pashelka