Tessa Salvestrin had been the Valley’s top scorer since her 15-goal freshman year at Justin-Sienne — such a dominant scorer, in fact, that her overall game didn’t even need to be considered.
But it was hard for the Napa Valley Register to consider a player the best in the region as a rookie and sophomore when her teams won just five games combined in those years.
By his junior season, however, even though no playoffs were held, the Braves began to rally around their determined leader. That was enough to make her the 2020-21 Napa County Football Player of the Year.
Last winter, Salvestrin was also selected for the 2021-22 Napa County Player of the Year, as she scored at least a career-high 22 goals, along with several assists to help her Braves overcome big obstacles. They became the only Vine Valley Athletic League side to beat runner-up Petaluma – champion Casa Grande only managed draws against the Trojans – while beating Trower Avenue rival Vintage for the first time.
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The icing on the cake was finishing third in the VVAL at 7-4-1 and earning the No. 10 seed in the North Coast Section Division 4 playoffs. The Braves hadn’t made the playoffs since 2001, but played like they belonged there, nearly knocking out No. 7 seed Urban from San Francisco in a 3-2 loss.
“The other seniors and I really wanted to make our last season memorable and make the playoffs for the first time in our careers,” Salvestrin said. “That was the goal we set for ourselves and we said to the juniors and the underclass ‘Hey, that’s our goal, we’re going to do everything we can to make it happen and if you’re not ready to work, so maybe you should play on JV because we need players who are willing to work hard and sacrifice a lot to get our team to this point.
“We worked extremely hard in training to get there and it paid off. We had very good league games against Petaluma (3-2 win) and Casa Grande (3-1 loss). When we first played them, we realized ‘Hey, we actually have a shot at beating these teams.’ So all season we were determined to sweep Petaluma and put in a strong performance the second time around against Casa Grande. We managed to do that (in a 1-0 win over Petaluma and another 3-1 loss to Casa) and it earned us third place in the league and qualified for the playoffs.
The victories over Petaluma weren’t easy.
“The second time we faced them is the one I remember best,” Salvestrin said. “It was our last game of the season before the playoffs and it was their senior night. It was a 0-0 game until the end of the second half and both teams were fighting. It was a great game, and I just remember at half-time I was like, ‘I’m probably going to have a chance this half to score and put this game away and I’m going to have to capitalize .”
“And at the end of the half I got a through ball from, I believe, Thais Thomson-Rangel and I knew that was my only shot for our team. I took it very seriously and I was focused the whole run and just put him at the back post.
Sometimes it takes a player who’s been there before to have the confidence to beat teams you’re not supposed to beat.
“I have a lot of experience as a captain since my second year, so I tried to convince everyone that we are a great team and that when we really put our minds into it and work as hard as our seniors, we can do things like make the playoffs for the first time in 21 years,” Salvestrin said. “I was disappointed that we couldn’t get past the first round of the playoffs, but I’m proud to our team and how they fought in this game. I’m excited to see what they’re building on this season.
Salvestrin earned the respect of both opponents, with their defensive schemes, and her own teammates.
“I was doubles and even triple teamed in many games. It was tough and a good challenge for me, but I think I was able to handle it well,” she said.
After scoring all five goals in a 5-1 league win at home to Sonoma Valley, the Dragons stunned the Braves with a 1-1 second-half league draw.
“I motivate myself because I’m a striker and it’s my job to score,” Salvestrin said. “I love scoring goals, so every time I score tons of goals I get excited and see how many I can score. But at the same time it’s going through my mind, I want to make sure my teammates pitch in. I don’t want to be in the spotlight all the time, but sometimes in games like (the 5-1 win over Sonoma Valley) it just happens.
“Our team got a penalty in that game and I grabbed the ball and went to ask if anyone wanted to take it besides me. I asked a ton of different players and they said ‘No, no, you take it.’ I tried my best to get other people on the dash, but in the end they wanted me on the PK.
At the end of the high school season, Salvestrin was one day at the Ranch Market in Yountville with some friends and ran into the guy who owned both the Ranch Market and the Napa Valley 1839 National Premier Soccer League men’s team. FC and, now, its women’s professional team. Football League team.
“Arik Housley, who I’ve known for a long time, was talking to me about the potential idea of 1839 having a WPSL team,” Salvestrin recalled. “I told him that I would be very interested in playing for them if they could get a team in Napa. So he contacted me a few weeks later and was like, ‘Hey, it’s happening. We want that you are the first to sign for 1839.’ I was super excited because I always wanted to go back to Napa and play, after leaving Napa United years ago.
She said two future Vintage juniors and future freshman Justin-Siena were the only players younger than her on the team of mostly college players. Still, she managed to score the team’s first-ever goal and also led 1839 FC in her short debut season.
“The league is extremely difficult,” she said. “Lamorinda and Cal Storm have had WPSL teams for 30 years, and the Cal Storm team had pro players who were in their offseasons. So to come in as a new team, the underdogs, with the team we had, it was quite difficult. But I’m proud of how we finished the season. I will definitely be back next year.”
Salvestrin also played for the Rage and was part of the Northwest ECNL Conference (Elite Clubs National League) second team.
Since mid-July, she has been living on the campus of Saint Mary’s College, with whom she signed before her Justin-Siena senior season, as the team prepares for NCAA Division I in the West Coast Conference.
She is ready to be humiliated.
“It’s a whole new environment,” she says. “Everyone is as good or better than me, and the game speed is much faster than I’m used to, so it took me about a week to get used to it. But I’m progressing pretty well and I am delighted with what our team will do in the WCC this season.
Until she started classes on August 26, she said she was training from 10 a.m. to noon, weightlifting and another practice in the late afternoon.
She said she stayed in touch with her high school head coach, Eric Branagan-Franco, who was the 2003 Napa County Boys’ Football Player of the Year as a goaltender for Napa High. . He will begin his seventh season at the helm of the Braves this winter.
“I’m proud of the way Eric coached our team. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve played for,” Salvestrin said. “When we finished our last game in the playoffs I was overwhelmed, so sad not to have another practice with Eric in Justin. It was four great years and I learned a lot from him. Even now I always asks for advice if I’m having trouble working out or need help.
She said her favorite professional player is Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford.
“He has been through so much adversity in his life and the way he has set up these foundations which provide school books for children and provide a ton of lunches for children in England whose families cannot support them. He is an amazing and versatile person as well as an amazing football player. When I get out of college, I hope to be able to do a lot more volunteering.
The youngest of three daughters of Rich and Shannon Salvestrin, raised by Justin, is already a role model for many, at least the young fans of the 1839 FC women’s team who have asked her for an autograph.
“Obviously I hope to play professional football after college, but as an 18-year-old about to be a college freshman, having little kids asking me for my autograph has was a great experience.”
When asked if she needed time away from football to decompress, she replied that football was actually what she played to decompress from everything else.
“If I go through tough challenges, I’ll go out and train on my own or play a game and it will clear my mind and I’ll feel a lot better,” she said.
Salvestrin plans to major in sports management.
“I think it would be really cool to work for ESPN, on SportsCenter or something like that,” she said.
Superlatives of Saint Helena
Senior striker Kaylee Moura was one of five Women’s Player of the Year finalists after leading the Saints to a 10-3-1 second-place finish in North Central League I. at 1-1 in the North Coast Section Division. 1 fall playoff to finish 13-5-1 overall.
Sophomore forward Aubrey Moura is Offensive Player of the Year, junior midfielder Mabel Wilms is Defensive Player of the Year finalist, and freshman midfielder Andrea Rodriguez-Mendoza is Newcomer finalist of the year.