Freshman phenom Zepeda nets hat trick

The undefeated start for No. 5 McNary Celtics boys soccer has rolled into league play.

Freshman Fernando Zepeda had a first half hat trick as the Celtics (7-0, 2-0) rolled over the Titans (2-5-1, 0-1-1) 7-0 at McNary on Tuesday night.

“He’s phenomenal,” McNary head coach Miguel Camarena said. “When you see a striker score three goals as a freshman at this level, it’s just a dream come true.”

Zepeda’s first goal came 12 minutes in on a header from a deep throw-in from Johann Singh Sanchez. His throw sailed over McNary midfielder Hudson Brunk who drew the defense’s attention, and right to Zepeda for the header. 

It was nearly identical to a throw-in and shot seven minutes earlier that West Salem keeper Angel Nicolai-Herrera narrowly punched over the crossbar. 

Nicolai-Herrera had a number of athletic saves for the Titans, as he faced a flurry from the Celtics, who totalled 14 shots on goal.

Six minutes later, Zepeda scored his second goal on a rebound after Nicolai-Herrera made multiple stops on a Celtic onslaught. 

With more than 12 minutes left in the half, Zepeda finished off his hat trick with another rebound goal. This time off a deep blast from Sanchez.

The freshman credited the accomplishment and all he’s done this season to hard work, 5 a.m. practices — and maybe a little luck.

“It just happened to come to me at the right time and I put it away,” Zepeda said. 

The nonchalant attitude shouldn’t be a surprise to Camarena, who said who doesn’t think Zepeda realizes just what a big deal it is to be productive as a freshman at the varsity level.

“I’m excited that he understands the concepts quick, and his heart is in soccer,” Camarena said.

Brunk added a goal in the first half to make it 4-0 after getting position five yards out. His first shot was stopped, but his second attempt couldn’t be denied. 

The Celtics went into the locker room with a four goal lead, and had out shot the Titans 10-1. But they didn’t relax and coast in the second half. They continued to be aggressive and push.

“Coaches have some secrets in the locker room,” Camarena said. “We teach these guys to not drop their level, and I think the guys are buying into that concept.”

Brunk scored his second goal of the day five minutes into the second half on another rebound goal.

Oscar Chavez and Allan Vazquez added goals for the Celtics later in the second half as well. 

The McNary defense was on display, only allowing one shot-on-goal in the game for West Salem. The Titans were unable to even get into Celtics territory for the first 15 minutes of play.

But Camarena credits this more to his team’s aggressiveness with the ball rather than defending it.

“When you have possession, this is one thing we preach in practices, you have more pressure on them and give them less chance to score,” Camarena said.

Through two league games the Celtics have outscored opponents 15-0. Overall, they are the final team in 6A play without a loss or tie. 

They are the only top-20 team in the Central Valley Conference. No. 21 South Salem is the only other team in conference with a winning record at 4-3, 1-0 in conference. 

McNary will look to keep that streak alive on Friday at North Salem.