Under-13 team heads to Utah to take on other state champions
When the Bay Oaks under-13 girls’ soccer team heads to Utah this weekend to prepare for the U.S. Youth Soccer Association regionals, two recent additions will give the team some Berkeley flavor.
Berkeley residents Kathleen O’Leary and Kate Berry-Millett joined a team that has been together for four years for the current season, and the Oaks have ascended to a national No. 4 ranking in winning the California Youth Soccer Association North State Cup in March. If they win the regional, which starts next weekend, they could reach the top of the national charts. Their head coach expects nothing less.
“Our team has played in a lot of tournaments within the state, and we’ve won 99 percent of our games,” Noel Gallo said. “We’re used to competition and pressure. I’m sure we’re going to do well, and I predict that we’re going to win.”
The core of the team started playing together at the under-9 level, and Gallo, whose daughter, Giana, plays on the team, started coaching the team four years ago. The Oaks are unusual in the realm of travel teams in that their coaching staff is all volunteer parents, unlike the paid coaches most high-level teams employ. Most of the team live in Oakland, but they also have players from Union City, Pinole and Fremont. Gallo said the family coaching has made his team unique.
“We’re different from most other select teams. They have high-paid trainers and coaches, and their parents don’t have the connection to the team,” he said. “The parent participation is gone from 90 percent of the teams we play.”
The Oaks have been one of the best teams in Northern California for the past three years, which is what attracted the Berkeley duo to come over from the Mavericks team. The team played for the State Cup for the two previous seasons, and won 10 tournaments with a 62-3-6 record this season. They dominated the State Cup, not allowing a single goal while scoring 29 times on the way to the championship, the organization’s third State Cup title.
“There were a lot of reasons for Kathleen and I to come here,” said Berry-Millett, who is also part of an Olympic Development program. “We were looking for some new coaching, and we wanted to play on a team that was more competitive and serious.”
As with any newcomer in an established organization, there was a period of adjustment for the new players. But Berry-Millett said the adjustment was most demanding on the field, as her new teammates were happy to get some new blood in uniform.
“We play a pretty different style than the Mavericks, and it was strange at first,” she said. “But we caught on really fast.”
Hillary Nakano is one of the team’s original members. She said Berry-Millett and O’Leary were quick to adjust to the team’s up-tempo, high-pressure style.
“In the beginning they didn’t play like us, but they adjusted to our playing style pretty fast,” Nakano said. “It’s all good now.”
Gallo said the two new players each brought something different to the Oaks.
“Kathleen brings a great attitude to the field every day. She puts a smile on people’s faces,” Gallo said. “But if there’s a girl with a love for soccer, it’s Kate. She’s really blossomed to the next level, and she’s going to be a star.”
Both Berkeley girls graduated from middle school on Thursday, Berry-Millett from Martin Luther King, Jr., and O’Leary from Black Pine Circle. Both will be freshmen at Berkeley High next year and should join the two-time defending ACCAL champion Yellowjackets. But first they have some unfinished business in East Jordan, Utah.
“I’m really excited about going to Utah,” Berry-Millett said. “I think it’s going to be a lot more difficult and competitive.”
The Oaks will face state champions from Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico in pool play. The final two teams will be named champions, as the under-13 level is the oldest without a national tournament.
The Bay Oaks is a non-profit organization. For information about donations or sponsorship opportunities for the Bay Oaks, call team manager Dana Wren at (510) 452-3643.