Annie Borton knew that a tough pre-season schedule would prove beneficial in the long run, even if it meant dropping a few games.
The logic went, if the young Berkeley High girls’ soccer team – after losing eight seniors from last year’s playoff team – could hang with the ultra-competitive “valley” teams early on, there’s no telling what could happen when the Yellowjackets squared off against their admittedly weaker league competition.
“Even if you’ve lost these games you still feel like you’ve accomplished a lot,” Borton said of the pre-season matches. “It’s fun to win 10-0, but that doesn’t really help develop you as a player too much.”
Maybe not, but it sure is fun clobbering league opponents, which is what Berkeley has done so far this season.
Already, the ’Jackets have whipped ACCAL newcomer Hercules 15-0 in the league opener, and last week they thumped Encinal 10-0.
For her part, Borton scored three goals and added two assists in the victory over Hercules. The junior forward knocked in another goal against Encinal.
“We played such good teams in the pre-season that it really challenged us,” said Borton, who’s become a leader of the youthful Berkeley squad. “My first year we were in the EBAL and we only won two games. It was really competitive and in some ways it’s nicer to be in an easier league.”
’Jackets’ head coach Suzanne Sillett intentionally scheduled challenging pre-season games against the likes of Arroyo, Clayton Valley, Monte Vista and Livermore, as well as the team that booted Berkeley out of the playoffs last season, Amador Valley. The only win the ’Jackets mustered in five games was a 4-1 triumph over Livermore in which Borton scored a goal and recorded an assist.
Nevertheless, Berkeley’s pre-season performance wasn’t terrible, considering that Borton, as team captain, is leading a squad that’s returning just three starters from last year’s ACCAL championship team.
It’s a tall order, but Sillett will be the first to acknowledge that Borton is capable of pulling the ’Jackets together.
“She knows what’s expected of the team,” Sillett said. “Annie’s always led by example, but this year she’s become more vocal and that’s helped.”
Continuing to describe Borton’s commitment to soccer and to the team, Sillett also praised the three-year starter’s work ethic.
“She’s played practically every minute of every game since she came here her freshman year,” Sillett said. “She has an incredible intensity and I’ve never seen her give less than 100 percent.”
Borton, 16, grew up in Berkeley and began playing soccer for a club team when she was 5 years old. But even before that, the young athlete could be seen kicking a soccer ball on the sidelines of her two older brothers’ games.
Characterized by Sillett as a “naturally great athlete,” Borton has played on the Bay Oaks club team for eight years and competed in tournaments throughout the United States and the world.
Three years ago the team traveled to Denmark where it competed in the Dana Cup. Borton’s select team, which requires annual three-day tryouts and is comprised of athletes from all around Northern California, won its division in the tournament.
“That was great,” Borton said. “We went to this small town, Hjorring, that’s population doubles in size when there’s a soccer tournament, and we represented the United States. It was a lot of fun.”
Borton takes time out from the Bay Oaks to play for the ’Jackets. Her entire calendar year – except maybe a couple weeks during the summer – is filled with soccer. Borton said the club team practices three days a week and competes on the weekends.
During the high school season, she typically spends two hours a day, five days a week on the soccer field.
“And on the weekends I usually do a little kicking or running,” she added.
Volleyball, basketball, baseball and even the violin used to go head-to-head against soccer for Borton’s attention. But only one activity could win Borton’s full concentration.
“I had to make a decision and I chose soccer,” she said. “It’s so much fun, really competitive and hard sometimes, but you get a good workout. I like the team aspect and I’ve been really lucky with the teams I’ve played on.”
Although just a junior, Borton is Berkeley’s chosen leader this season. She’s played varsity for the ’Jackets since she was a freshman, was named all-league last year and teammates voted her Most Inspirational Player.
This year, Borton is Berkeley’s team captain.
Despite having nearly two full seasons of soccer left before graduating from high school, Borton said the opportunity to play collegiate soccer is a top goal.
“I would love to play in college,” she said. “I’m looking a little more (at schools on the) East Coast, but I’m still pretty wide open. I haven’t got into that whole (recruiting) thing yet. I’m avoiding it.”
When she does choose a school, it will probably have a good soccer team, but it will also likely help Borton move forward on her career path, which includes following in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer.
But for now, she’s focused on keeping the ’Jackets atop the ACCAL and headed into the playoffs for the second straight season.