All it took was simply one request to turn Menlo-Atherton’s Katie Guenin into one of the most prolific scorers in Peninsula Athletic League history.
“I only switched to playing forward my eighth-grade year,” said Guenin, who previously played center defender. “I asked my club coach if I could play forward during a tournament and I scored a bunch of goals.”
She hasn’t stopped scoring. A dynamic, four-year player for the Bears, she started her high school career with 10 goals and simply added on over the next three years. This year, her senior year, Guenin had the most productive seasons of her prep career. She led her team — and the PAL — in goals scored with 26. She was second on the team in assists with 10. She helped lead M-A to an undefeated, 14-0 PAL Bay Division championship, the school’s first since 1999, and its second straight 16-win season (16-4-2). The Bears’ regular-season success led to a spot in the Central Coast Section Open Division for the first time. To cap off her senior season, she assisted on all three goals in the Bears’ monumental, first-round 3-0 upset of an undefeated Palo Alto team that had yielded just one goal all season.
For her efforts, Guenin is the Daily Journal’s Girls’ Soccer Player of the Year.
“She’s a special player. I knew that from her freshman year. … She broke her collarbone her sophomore year and was still the leading scorer. She’s tough,” said M-A coach Jason Luce, who took over the varsity program beginning Guenin’s sophomore year after spending several seasons as the Bears’ junior varsity coach and watched Guenin from afar that first year at M-A.
“She’s an all-around player,” Luce continued. “I couldn’t be happier that she was at M-A. I definitely would not want to defend her.”
During her four years, Guenin scored 64 goals and assisted on 25 others, while helping lead the Bears to an overall record of 44-20-12 and a PAL mark of 37-11-8 with M-A qualifying for the CCS playoffs all four years.
Perhaps it was that time spent as a defender that gave Guenin insight into how to beat a defense. While her ability to simply run past most defenses was her main skill, she realized early on she needed to add to her repertoire if she was to be the most dangerous player she could be.
“Once I got into the forward position, I always loved to use my speed,” Guenin said. “As I became more comfortable in the position, I learned I had more skills.”
If there is one characteristic that defines Guenin more than being a terror to opposing defenses and goalkeepers, it is her drive to put in the work. Luce said her competitiveness and work ethic are what turned Guenin into the player she has become.
“She’s a super hard worker,” Luce said. “I try to stump her in practice, try to make things tough, and somehow she always [gets it done]. Any day you show up, she’ll do something to wow you.”
Guenin was also smart enough not to rely on just one skill. One of the biggest skills she honed was her ability to be as dangerous with her back to the goal as she was running at defenders.
“If I stuck with that one style of play, I wouldn’t have scored as many goals as I did,” Guenin.
Said Luce: “At first, it was just her speed, but you can’t always rely on that. A lot of her other goals are just hard work. … She’s actually a good scorer off the ball. She scores nice goals from weird angles. She has great control of her body.”
As is the case for many successful strikers, Guenin didn’t do it alone. She was surrounded by a talented cast of players and when it came to offense, the Bears had one of the most dangerous triumvirates around. Guenin, fellow forward Diana Morales and midfielder Josephine Cotto combined for 51 of the team’s 72 goals, and added 27 assists this season.
“Cotto and Morales, not only did they take pressure off (Guenin), they complemented each other so well,” Luce said. “It was nice to get good players around her. She made those players better too. It was a really fun year this year.
“But anyone who played us knew that stopping us started with [Guenin].”
As Guenin grew as a player, so did the Bears’ stock in the PAL and CCS. After a pair of fourth-place finishes her first two years, M-A jumped into second place her junior year, with the Bears going on to win the CCS Division I title. While the Bears came up short of winning an Open Division title this season — they lost 4-0 to Mitty in the semifinals — one of the highlights of Guenin’s career was beating Palo Alto in the first round.
The game was somewhat personal for Guenin, who played with a lot of the Palo Alto players on her club team. So there was even more satisfaction when M-A handed the Vikings their only loss of the season 3-0, tripling the number of goals Palo Alto had allowed.
Ironically, Guenin did not find the back of the net once. But like a true team player, she relished in the fact that she had a hand in all three goals. Early in the first half, Morales, Guenin and Cotto combined for the game's first goal. Morales made a pass to Guenin at the top of the box, who laid a pass back to Cotto 25 yards out. After a touch, Cotto surprised everyone by pulling the trigger and finding the right corner of the goal. In the second half, Guenin took a long pass over her shoulder in the penalty box and touched a pass to Morales, who finished for a 2-0 lead. Guenin then made the third goal happen on her own, tight-rope walking the end line before cutting a pass back to a wide open Margaret Child who iced the game with the Bears' third goal.
“I was more happy with the time I assisted Margaret Child,” Guenin said. “As long as I can be part of the play, I’m pleased with myself. As long as I’m doing that, I’m doing OK.”