The Lowell girls' soccer team celebrates a 2-1 win over Ripon in the NorCal Division IV final in 2018. (Amber Wilson / Courtesy)

SF Glens Soccer Spotlight: Changing of the guard at No. 1 Lowell

By Ryan Maquiñana
Special to S.F. Examiner

The San Francisco Glens Soccer Club of USL League Two are proud to partner with the Examiner in featuring a different boys’ or girls’ high school team every Sunday in our SF Glens Soccer Spotlight.

To say that Lowell has dominated girls’ soccer in the CIF San Francisco Section would be an understatement.

For 21 straight seasons, the league championship trophy hasn’t left campus. Last season in CIF-SF play, the Cardinals didn’t concede a goal until the third month of the season and finished with a scoring differential of 67-2. They also captured a NorCal Division IV title for the first time to cement their place atop our preseason rankings.

But this winter, a different voice has been patrolling the sidelines. Longtime head coach Gene Vrana has stepped aside to make way for assistant Amber Wilson.

“I was looking to find coaches who were based at Lowell as faculty and staff in order to have some continuity,” Vrana said, “and also to have women coaching young women.”

Wilson, a current counselor at the school and former San Francisco Nighthawks player, is cognizant of the shoes she has to fill.

“There’s definitely pressure, but I’m not afraid to say that,” she said. “I’m very glad to have the support and the knowledge of Gene and our players.”

Vrana is no longer the face of the program, but he hasn’t ventured far. He will remain on staff, serving as an assistant along with Cheryl Fong. The talent pool is deep; out of the nine Cardinals that made the All-League First and Second Teams, seven have returned, including 2017-18 Most Valuable Forward Hannah McCord.

“We learned a lot from [going to NorCal] last year, especially different styles of play from schools outside San Francisco,” said McCord, a senior whose creativity will shift her to attacking midfielder this season. 

Up front, McCord will have plenty of options to pad her assist stats, with senior center forward Sabrina Lem and sophomore winger Alice Belshaw-Hood.

Lem and Belshaw-Hood are quintessential two-way players for Lowell. They terrorize opponents on offense and use that same tenacity to disrupt those same defenders with high pressure when they try to play the ball out of the back.

“As a freshman, there was a lot of learning because I never played wing before, but I’m ready for it now,” said Belshaw-Hood, whose speed helps her get behind defensive back lines.

Lowell’s reputation as an academic powerhouse is reflected in its girls’ soccer team, with organization and discipline among their hallmarks.

“It’s impressive, the type of family they’re able to create on their own,” Wilson said. “We don’t initiate that, which is something I’ve learned from Gene.”

According to Lem, those cohesive traits come out more organically thanks to team-bonding activities.

“We try to make an effort to get to know each other outside the field, so we’ll do things like have everyone over at a player’s house for a [Nintendo] Wii MarioKart party,” she shared. “Also, we learned a lot about each other after driving for four hours to Redding and Ripon in [the NorCal playoffs].”

Though the Cardinals aim to defend their NorCal title, the immediate task at hand is a 22nd straight CIF-SF championship. While second-ranked Balboa aims to dethrone them, the Cardinals are wary of other contenders like Washington and Mission.

“Now that games outside the league are used for seeding in NorCal, we have a target on our back,” Vrana said.

Wilson embraces it all.

“When we were in NorCal, we felt like we were representing everyone in San Francisco, not just Lowell,” she said. “We’re ready for the challenge again. Together we dominate.”

The SF Glens are entering their second season at Boxer Stadium, featuring the best college talent in the Bay Area and ex-U.S. National Team captain Jimmy Conrad as new technical director. Learn more at SFGlens.com or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @SFGlensSC.

* * *

SAN FRANCISCO BOYS’ SOCCER TOP 10

  1. St. Ignatius
  2. University
  3. Leadership
  4. Mission
  5. Lick-Wilmerding
  6. Sacred Heart Cathedral
  7. June Jordan
  8. Urban
  9. Lowell
  10. Stuart Hall

Game of the Week: No. 2 University at No. 4 Mission, Wednesday 3 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO GIRLS’ SOCCER TOP 10

  1. Lowell
  2. Balboa
  3. Sacred Heart Cathedral
  4. St. Ignatius
  5. Urban
  6. Washington
  7. Mission
  8. Lincoln
  9. Leadership
  10. University

Game of the Week: No. 1 Lowell at No. 10 University, Saturday 1:30 p.m.

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