From Distance: Fresno Travels 220 Miles for Season Opener Win
Published May 27, 2023
Written By:  Katie Parker | WPSL Correspondent


Saturday, May 20 was a big night for Napa Valley 1839 FC, who returns for its second year in the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL), as it opened the new season at home with a double-header evening with its men’s side to celebrate its Soccer for a Cause initiative – this year supporting farmworkers. Napa Valley highlights these initiatives with annual, special-edition cause kits to shine greater light on the cause it’s chosen for that year.

“We started out with breast cancer, we’ve done mental health, stand up against gun violence, and this year we chose to honor the farmworkers and give back to farmworker health,” Arik Housley, Napa Valley 1839 FC co-owner, said. “This year, the front of [the jersey] says ‘Salud.’ The idea is an abstract picture on the front to not know if it’s a woman or a man farmworker because they all help carry our valley like they’ve done for so many years.” 

It was also the season opener for PAC North opponent, Fresno Freeze, who traveled roughly 220 miles for a 4 PM kickoff on a sunny Napa day with temps in the mid-70s. Napa and Fresno both looked to set the tone immediately and it didn’t take long for the goals to start racking up.

The Freeze took possession first, and just seven seconds in, began switching the field through its backline before Napa’s Tessa Salvestrin (Saint Mary’s College) intercepted a long pass and drove forward with teammate Olivia Jessee (Pacific Union College). They fought for a shot at goal all the way to the end line, but their attack was eventually foiled with a clearance by Fresno’s Julia Hardwick.

Photo By: Napa Valley 1839 FC media team

Fresno made it to the board first in the seventh minute. Samantha Tristan (UC Davis) and Ciara Wilson (Fresno State) executed a nice give-and-go before a Napa defender stepped in to knock it away, but the clearance was deflected to a wide-open Bailey Bracha (Cal Poly SOL), who launched it with a single touch off her left foot from about 25 yards out. The ball hovered in the air before floating just under the crossbar and over the hands of goalkeeper Juliana Alexander (University of the Pacific).

Four minutes later Napa left the Freeze wide open again as an unmarked Tristan received the ball and let it rip from about five yards deeper than Bracha. The shot took a nearly identical flightline and tucked just under the crossbar to double the lead 2-0.  

In the 23’ Fresno’s Wilson turned the ball from a throw-in down the line while taking one touch forward before firing it from the right touchline at a relatively tough angle. The ball again soared just over Alexander and into the side netting of the goal. 3-0 Fresno.

On the opposite side of the pitch, Napa continued working to make something happen in its attacking third. Shauna Johnston (Stanislaus State) got her foot on a bouncing cross about eight yards out, but it sailed high. Another chance came from Lauren Frohan (University of the Pacific) on the left flank, but that attempt landed in the hands of Fresno goalie Kaydence Cortez-Garcia (Fresno State). Blythe Obar (Baylor University) also had a wide-open chance in front of the goal, but once again, the ball flew up and over the woodwork.

Napa kept the forward movement up, which resulted in a few opportunities and free kicks, but the effort wasn’t enough yet to find the back of the net. The score remained 3-0 at the half and Napa went into the locker room with some positives to build on to try and turn things around.

“We were kind of happy in the first half with how we controlled possession and kind of dictated plays, somewhat,” Ben Solomon, Napa Valley 1839 FC head coach, said. “They [Fresno] got three goals from distance. We didn’t get beaten in behind, which is something we’ve been working on. So, we’re kind of happy with that, but obviously, we conceded three, kind of easy, goals really, for them.”

Fresno entered the break aware of its first-half advantage as things fell in its favor and were determined to further extend the lead.

“Napa Valley put us under pressure from the beginning of the game and I thought we did a really good job to recover from that and start to build forward,” Kevin Botteerill, Fresno head coach & executive director, said. “We kind of got the ‘rub of the green’ on two or three great shots from distance that we put away, that kind of in a fairly even first half, gave us a good advantage.”

The first minute of the second half provided more excitement. Confusion about whether the ball had gone out of bounds or not led to a breakaway by Bracha who dribbled up the field with ease. The Fresno forward took a shot from the top of the box and Napa’s goalie Samantha Nash (Los Medanos College), who entered the game at the half, made a diving save. Nash then proceeded to put on a clinic making at least three phenomenal saves back-to-back-to-back.

Photo By:  Napa Valley 1839 FC media team

Finally, in the 62’ the advantage shifted in Napa’s favor as Kimberly Garcia (Los Medanos College) ran after a long ball cleared by her defense. Garcia collected it after pressuring the Fresno defender and careened toward the goal filled with pure determination and speed. Freeze keeper Autum Monty (Biola University) closed in on the attack but Garcia saw an opening and slipped the ball past to put the hometown team on the board – the stands erupted. Napa supporters called the Green Army deployed a green smoke bomb while mascot Napa Snappa ran the 1839 flag. The score was now 3-1.

Fresno was determined to cushion its lead and just four minutes later did just that. The ball ricocheted around in the box like a pinball until Brooke Cox (Nicholls State University) stepped up and one-timed it into the upper right corner of the net giving the Freeze its 4th goal – the visitors weren’t done yet.

Beautiful ball movement between Wilson and Kendall Carr (Clovis High senior) in the 81’ set up Fresno’s fifth and final goal of the game. A give-and-go gave Carr the time and space to look up, find her target, and launch it from 30 yards out. The ball, once again, drifted right under the crossbar. Fresno now led 5-1.

Despite the deficit, Napa kept creating chances and just before full-time the effort paid off again. A rocket of a free kick from Erin Brown (Durham University) in the 90’ hit goalie Monty’s hands and bounced to the ground where Napa’s Hunter More (Israel Women’s National Football Team player and University of the Pacific alumna) crashed the goal and converted the rebound. 

One minute later the final whistle blew to confirm Fresno’s first win of the 2023 season with a final score was 5-2.

Napa’s players have a tenacity to them that allows them to keep fighting. In 2022, despite only winning two games, 1839 managed to score in all but one match. However, Solomon pointed out the team also conceded a goal in the first 10 minutes in most games last season, which is what happened on against the Freeze here.

“We gave them too much time and space in the middle and that allowed them to create the opportunities to score from distance, 40, 30 yards, which is somewhat unacceptable,” Solomon said. “It’s something we looked to address at halftime, which we did, but then we lost a bit of our flow I think, a bit of our rhythm.”

Fresno’s Bracha had a big night earning the start in her first game with the Freeze. She was an integral part of the team’s forward movement and she set the tone early by scoring the club’s first goal. 

’We kind of had a close one right off the bat. They started to counter on us, but we responded to that right away and I think just moving the ball around, we did a great job,” Bracha said. “Came out strong and had a very solid first half, but just seeing those things we did wrong and being able to make the adjustment at half and taking it into the second half, I think that was huge for us and that’s going to help generate our success for the rest of the season.”

Next for Fresno is a rematch of the 2022 Pac North Conference semifinals against the defending WPSL champions, the California Storm.

“That was the conversation that we had [just after the game]. That we were disappointed with the two goals that we conceded, because one of them was from things we’d talked about and the other one was not putting the commitment into getting there to the rebound first,” Botteerill said. “I literally said, if we play Storm next week and we do that, we won’t have a 5 goal cushion to kind of protect us. So, we gotta make sure that we keep doing the good things we did today, but there’s no room for mistakes at this level.”

In 2022’s postseason matchup, the Storm beat Fresno 5-0. This time though, the Freeze has momentum and home-field advantage.

“I’m nervous, I’m excited, I’m confident, I’m ready to have some fun,” Bracha said. “Everyone’s like, it’s the best team in the nation. So, I’m like, let’s go out there, it’s on our home pitch, let’s give our fans what they want to see. Let’s have fun and let’s work hard this week at practice to prepare for it.”

Fresno Freeze and California Storm face off on Saturday, May 27 at 4:30 PM PT. The Storm will travel 180 miles for the club’s first showing of the season. 

Napa Valley 1839 has a couple of weeks off before traveling to the Bay Area to take on reigning Pac North champs, the San Francisco Nighthawks on Saturday, June 3 at 4 PM PT.

Watch matches live on Eleven Sports, the official streaming partner of the WPSL.