By Ray Hamill — More than two decades after their mothers won North Coast Section medals in girls soccer, two young H-DNL student athletes are following in their footsteps and living up to the family tradition.
Last week, when Eureka edged Arcata in a penalty shootout to clinch the Division-I crown, versatile junior midfielder Jordan Brown emulated her mother Stephanie’s success by winning a section medal.
Three days earlier, when St. Bernard’s rolled over Upper Lake for the D-III title, senior Natalia Torres took home a medal, matching her mother Mary’s success in the sport.
It all began back in the fall of 1999, or, to be precise, in August 1996.
Under the guidance of head coach Kathleen Areballo (now Lynch), that season the St. Bernard’s girls qualified for the first-ever small schools NCS girls championship game, but lost in heartbreaking fashion on a penalty shootout to Willits.
The following year, they were back in the championship, but suffered disappointment for the second straight year and lost 4-3 in a high-scoring showdown against St. Vincent.
Two years later, with the bulk of the team now seniors, they came into their final season with a collective steely determination.
“They went into that season mentally prepared and not wanting anybody to stop them,” Lynch said. “That was a fun year.”
Jordan’s mother, Stephanie Cookman (now Brown), and Torres’ mother, Mary Zaragoza (now Torres-Zaragoza), both were seniors on the team and both recall the excitement they all felt when they beat St. Vincent 1-0 in a tight championship matchup in Petaluma against the two-time defending champions.
“We were super determined to win,” Stephanie said. “And it felt really good because we had been so close in the other two championship games.
“I just remember how excited we were, and it was just amazing.”
Torres-Zaragoza remembers how close the team was that season.
“Just the team bonding we had that year was special,” she said. “Everyone just played their little hearts out.”
Kelsey Burman scored the decisive goal in the win with just 12 minutes remaining in the game, with an assist from Justine Mullin, and that was enough for the No. 3 seeds to knock off the No 1 Mustangs.
It was also the H-DNL’s first-ever NCS championship in soccer, boys or girls.
“We had some very talented young ladies,” said Lynch, who is one of the most accomplished local soccer coaches on the North Coast and has enjoyed a long and successful career on the sidelines. “And it was really neat to see the seniors finally earn their title.”
The team featured several outstanding seniors, including Burman and goalkeeper Allison Kevo, as well as midfielder Meridee Paye, who went on to coach at Eureka High.
Another senior, Aunna Bollman, formed a good partnership up front with Cookman.
Kelsie Parks and Gina Vellutini rounded out a determined senior class, with the latter’s younger sister Lisa also a member of the team.
“We had a lot of great players on that team,” Stephanie said.
The Vellutinis’ niece, Ema Brenes, also is member of this year’s St. Bernard’s championship team and a two-time NCS winner, and also is keeping the family tradition going.
In addition to this year’s championship, the Crusaders also won a section title in 2019.
Jordan Brown, meanwhile, played a pivotal role for the Loggers this season and has been a valuable member of the team since her freshman season.
“Jordan has similar qualities to Stephanie,” Lynch said. “She’s scrappy and she’s a hard worker.”
This year, the junior played several different positions in midfield and up front and was comfortable wherever she was asked to play.
“She’s extremely versatile and adapts to whatever role we put her in,” Eureka head coach Tommy Learmouth said. “She was huge for us. She’s one of those players who always brings a lot. She might not score goals but she does the things to make her teammates successful.”
Torres, meanwhile, is now a two-time NCS champ and has set a new family standard that will be tough for the next generation to top.
“She’s put in a lot of effort throughout her soccer career at St. Bernard’s,” her mother said. “She forced herself to get better, and it’s pretty inspiring to see.”
And, naturally, both mothers have enjoyed watching their daughters succeed.
“I really enjoyed the games,” Torres-Zaragoza said. “They were a lot of fun to watch. They definitely put up a fight.”
So too did the Loggers.
“I was super proud of the girls this year,” Stephanie said.
The H-DNL now has seven total girls NCS soccer titles, four by St. Bernard’s (1999, 2003, 2019 and 2021), two by Eureka (2018 and 2021) and one by Fortuna (2017).
Lynch has coached both St. Bernard’s and Fortuna to section championships.