She tried to envision herself with no hair.
Would her sandy brown eyebrows really pop if her curly locks weren’t flowing from her head?
She tried to visualize it, imagine how pale her scalp would be, what shape would her head reveal if no longer hidden. She couldn’t do it. Couldn’t bring herself to cut it off.
That’s why she plays soccer for Las Positas.
“There’s no way in heck I am shaving my head,” said Raena Juarez, a freshman midfielder for the Hawks.
Juarez thought the offer from The Citadel, a respected military college, was appealing. An 80 percent scholarship almost landed her in South Carolina playing for the Bulldogs. But the school’s shaved hair requirement was a deal breaker.
San Jose State was also in the picture but didn’t offer her enough scholarship money. So to spare her parents the financial burden, she decided on the community college. But not just any community college. She decided to go to the best soccer program in the area.
Yes, she is talking about the Hawks.
“It’s like the Stanford,” she said, “but of the junior colleges.”
That Juarez, who graduated from James Logan High School in Union City, views the Hawks with such high regard is a testament to the growth of the program.
In 2014, Paul Sapsford was hired as head of the women’s soccer at Las Positas. In his first season, the Hawks went 6-12. Since then, they’ve increased their win totals each season. They won 12 games in 2015-16 and made the NorCal playoffs. The following year, 13 wins and another trip to the playoffs. This time, they won their first-round match.
Last season, they went 15-1-2 and earned the No. 4 seed in the NorCal playoffs. They were upset 1-0 in the first round by No. 13 seed San Joaquin Delta. But the heartbreak hasn’t seemed to slow the program.
“Hard work.” Sapsford said “Lots of 80-hour weeks by coaches (made this possible)”
The Hawks are currently 9-1-2. They were ranked as high as No. 7 in the nation, per the United Soccer Coaches Division III poll. The latest rankings, released Oct. 2, had the Hawks at No. 13.
Sapsford has been around the proverbial block. He was an assistant coach for Stanford and St. Mary’s College before becoming head coach there at St. Mary’s. His experience is helping him with building up the Las Positas program into a powerhouse.
Sapsford’s reputation had reached Juarez. He didn’t know her but she knew his resume. She had learned of his reputation for being supportive of players, especially helping them advance to the next level after Las Positas.
“His background in college soccer at the Division I level has translated into creating an extremely competitive environment for us at LPC,” sophomore midfielder Meghan Giamona said. “This is exactly what the athletes who want to continue playing at a four-year school need. Tactically he’s very wise and knows exactly what’s needed to break down an opponent.”
Sapsford likes to run a tight ship. He has standards he set and expects the team to reach them.
While he is a stickler with his coaching style, on the pitch he likes his teams to have more of a free flowing and creative offense. It actually works out on both ends.
His emphasis on defense keeps his players on point in that area. His offensive philosophy keeps them engaged and enjoying it. Tactical defense, player-friendly offense.
“Me, personally, I’d say I’m a defensive coach,” Sapsford said. “But the girls would say offensive.
“As a coach you have more influence when you don’t have the ball. On offense it’s more about the players ability and the players decision making capabilities. I don’t want to take the creativity away from the players, you play what you see. Defensively in terms of organization, I tell them what to do.”
Most of last year’s historic team is gone — including midfielder Camilla Foncesca, whose 23 assists were the most in California and her nine goals were second on the team — but the Hawks have a few returning players to lead them.
The Hawks’ leading goal scorer, Paola Samaniego, is back. Giamona is now one of the primary forwards, already leading the Hawks with 10 goals. Midfielder Lauren Sisneros and defender Sofia Escalante also have increased responsibility.
Still they are also relying heavily on newcomers to step right into the Hawks way.
Forwards Jocelyn Hernandez, Araceli Hinojosa and Gabriella Polizzi, midfielders Alexis Xaysana, Paola Barren and Jasmine Loaiza. They have all been thrown into the fire.
“He’s definitely strict when he needs to be,” Giamona said of Sapsford, “but never in a negative way. We still have fun.”
The Hawks still sights are firmly set on the postseason, and they are well on their way. on a deep run in the playoffs. Making the playoffs is expected. The Hawks have never missed the postseason under Sapsford.
Before him, they made the playoffs 3 times in 10 years.
“I don’t really see any weaknesses,” Giamona said “I have faith in my team that we will accomplish what we need to one way or another.”
One of those new players expected to produce right away is Juarez. She is still dealing with a severely sprained ankle she suffered during a drill in which a teammate inadvertently slid into her ankle. She was expected to be out at least 2 weeks
She returned in time for the game against Ohlone — game she was determined not to miss — and scored a goal her first game back. Juarez has to get her ankle taped before every game and practice and afterwards has to manage the soreness with ice.
The Hawks missed her all around abilities on defense. They have been really good on that side but she adds a new element, a defender who’s a great passer able to set up her team to keep the offense going.
“She’s a screen for the back four,” Sapsford said. “Offensively she switches the ball when it’s appropriatez She’s like a point guard. But a point guard who stays back.”
In the meantime, the offense has kept the Hawks afloat. They are top 10 in goals, goals per game and points. They are top five in assists in the state. Giamona is the fourth-highest scorer in the state in scoring.
This balance has become a feature of the Hawks. That, plus the culture Sapsford has created has put the Las Positas program on the map.
It also allowed Juarez to keep her hair.