Most Viewed Stories
'Tough girls' starting for O.C. football team
Monica Castaneda and Angelica Vargas start on the offensive line for winless Bolsa Grande.
GARDEN GROVE – Bolsa Grande's football team hasn't won a varsity game in two years. The Matadors are a small, struggling program suffering through a shortage of upperclassmen, experience, numbers in general, and physical size.
For every powerhouse Orange County program such as Los Alamitos, Mater Dei or Servite, there are a dozen or so teams that fall in the same boat as the Matadors. One of them, Buena Park, has enjoyed a breakout season this year, and become the feel-good story around Orange County.
But winless Bolsa Grande is very different than even other such small programs.
While most girls who have played high school football over the years have been kickers, the Matadors have two girls who not only play on the offensive line, they're starters.
"Obviously, they're both tough girls," 10th-year Bolsa Grande coach Jim Lamb said last week.
Angelica Vargas, a 5-foot-4, 160-pound senior in her first year of football, started at left guard Friday against league powerhouse Garden Grove. Monica Castaneda, a 5-foot-5 junior (who says she weighs 190, but that must be counting her shoulder pads, helmet and then some) started at right tackle.
"They don't run-block real great, for obvious reasons, but they pass-block pretty well. They get in someone's way," said Lamb, who never in his long career had coached one girl in football before Castaneda came out, let alone two. "My first year here, there was a girl on the freshman team, but then she went to cheerleading."
That goes the other way at Bolsa, too; the Matadors have lost several veteran boys to the cheerleading squad this season, thinning an already small football program.
Castaneda, who has been playing football since the seventh grade, is in her third year in the Bolsa Grande program. She plays football "because I like it," and, echoing Vargas, said she isn't intimidated by the much bigger boys she lines up against on a nightly basis. Castaneda's brother plays on the Bolsa Grande freshman team.
Vargas is a water polo player at Bolsa. Her brother Jesus played football for Lamb for four seasons and was an All-Garden Grove League center last year as a senior. Angelica Vargas wears her brother's No. 61 this year.
"My brother got me into it," she said of football. "When I was doing water polo, I found it very physical and challenging. I thought football would be even better."
Her reaction, eight games into the season? "It's way tougher than I expected," Vargas said.
Bolsa Grande has only 25 varsity players, and Lamb had to cancel the junior varsity program this season because of the small turnout. Four sophomores are varsity regulars.
The freshman program has a few more players, Lamb said, but it hasn't been able to practice or play more than 25, either.
Castaneda said she benefitted by playing JV football last season, and both girls agreed they could use the extra field time, but Lamb said the way it's evolved, the Matadors can't risk injury at the JV level that would thin them even more for varsity games.
"Last year, we had 24 seniors, which was too many," Lamb said. "This year, we only have eight seniors, which isn't enough."
Four of the eight Matadors seniors, like Vargas, are in their first football seasons.
"It's a bubble year," Lamb said. "I knew it was going to happen, but I didn't think it was going to be this bad."
The Matadors have lost 20 in a row since defeating Rancho Alamitos in October 2008. They won four games that season, and had 10 sophomores on the team.
Only three of those players have stayed in the program – standout linebacker/tight end Daniel Nguyen, running back/defensive back Juan Chun and wide receiver/DB Enoch Baumbach.
"The hardest part of playing for Bolsa is, it's Bolsa," Nguyen said. "It's not a winning program right now, so not many are willing to join. On campus, I see plenty of kids with potential to be good players, but they just don't come out."
Bolsa Grande doesn't have a game program this season for financial reasons, and the school doesn't field a wrestling program, which Nguyen said is a blow to the football team, because of the two sports' obvious tie-ins.
What keeps him motivated, going against the odds every game?
"Looking for that win." said Nguyen, who experienced victories as a sophomore defensive starter on varsity, something few of his current teammates can relate to.
He said he didn't do a double-take or anything when the two girls came out for the team.
"I didn't think much about it," Nguyen said. "I'll take anyone who wants to help us win.
"They're out here, they work hard and they're reliable."
And, he added, "They're not scared out there."
Castaneda and Vargas said the boys on the team haven't treated them any different than any of their other teammates, which is just fine with them.
The one obvious difference: When their practice day ends, the two girls head to a different locker room to change. Otherwise, they're all Matadors: Hoping against hope, and giving it the good fight.