The Casa Grande girls soccer team is off to a rocky start in its first year in the North Bay League. The good news is that the Lady Gauchos have enough talent and tradition to get back into the chase for another North Coast Section playoff spot by the end of the season.

Casa Grande coach Vinnie Cortezzo is candid in his assessment of Maria Carrillo as the NBL title favorite, with Cardinal Newman, Montgomery and Casa Grande clustered right behind.

Casa Grande opened its season by playing Maria Carrillo, Cardinal Newman and Montgomery in three of its first four NBL matches. After beating Windsor in its first game in its new league, the Lady Cardinals lost to the top contenders back-to-back-to-back, falling to Maria Carrillo, 4-2; Cardinal Newman, 2-1; and Montgomery, Monday night, 3-2.

Playing at home Monday, Casa Grande, jumped out to a 1-0 lead over Montgomery on a goal by sophomore Amanda Galbraith.

But Montgomery tied the game when Katie Woodrun lobbed a goal over the head of the Casa goalie and went up, 2-1, early in the second half on a goal by Paige McMahon. Not long afterward, Jen Yucuta scored an insurance goal for Montgomery.

The Lady Vikings had to cash in that insurance policy when Galbraith scored her second goal for the Lady Gauchos.

Becca Benjamin and Mimi Gallo assisted on Galbraith's goals.

Casa Grande, the dominant team in the SCL for the past several seasons, played well enough to offer legitimate hope that things will be different the second time around their league schedule.

The heart of the Casa Grande lineup is its senior leadership, led by forward Taylor Halstenson, who brings speed, athleticism and determination to her right forward position.

Senior defensive backs Dayna Dolcini and Kayla Kimball are not only excellent defenders, but can also help with the scoring. Each had a goal to account for all the Lady Gaucho scoring in the loss to Maria Carrillo.

A pair of seniors, Maddy Thomas and Emily Sewall, have been alternating in goal. "They have been splitting time," notes Cortezzo. "We'll see who plays the best and how it works out."

For Sewall, Monday's Montgomery game was special despite the loss because it was played on her 17th birthday.

Senior Rachel Gugel has been playing midfield, but the coach says she is valuable because she can also play forward or as a defender.

Senior Alicia Angotti brings speed and strength to an outside defender position.

Several of the younger players are also going to have to step into key roles if the Lady Gauchos are to be successful.

Junior Gallo will be asked to help with the scoring as an attacking midfielder. Benjamin will also be important as a mid-fielder.

Galbraith has played well in the early going, developing into one of the Lady Gauchos' most dangerous scoring threats. She scored two goals in Casa's league win over Windsor, the second proving to be the game winner coming in the final 30 seconds of the game.

Cortezzo again has a large varsity team, with 28 players, but still depth is a problem.

Two potentially key players, senior forward Cierra Irbarne and senior center-back Emily Welter, are both out with injuries.

The coach says he has several players who might help, but he hasn't gotten a chance to know their skills because they haven't played for him on either high school or club teams.

With the way the season has started with a whole succession of tough games, Cortezzo has been forced to play his proven players the majority of the time.

"Hopefully as we go along, and as I get to know the players, we will have more depth," he explained.

Meanwhile, for Casa Grande, life in the North Bay League means every game is like a playoff game.