After winning the Blossom Valley Athletic League’s Santa Teresa Division championship and a Central Coast Section playoff game last season, the Live Oak High girls soccer team was promoted to the Mount Hamilton Division this season, which consists of A-level teams. Can the Acorns hold their own, or even contend for a league title?
Only time will tell, but know this: coach Tony Vasquez feels the talent is there for the squad to more than hold its own against tougher competition. To accomplish that, the Acorns will have to coalesce fast. They graduated a half-dozen senior starters from last year’s team, so the heavily dominated sophomore and junior roster will have to fill the void. Everyone believes the pieces are in place for that to happen.
Even though Live Oak graduated a lot of talent, it returns its most dynamic playmaker in sophomore forward Karlie Lema, who blazed onto the scene last season and wreaked havoc on the opposition. Vasquez said he can’t wait to see how Lema develops in the next phase of her game.
“One of the things I really want to see from her to get to that next step is making her teammates better,” he said. “All great players have the ability to make their teammates better, to help them score goals or get assists and help them raise their game. I really challenged her in that area. Last year in the playoffs they triple-teamed her, so she has to be smart about that and not try to do everything by herself. I’m excited to see how she improves and then becomes that great player who makes everyone around her better.”
Sophomore Audrey Reed, a returning wing, continues to impress with her ability to never tire out during a match. Reed is a two-time participant in the CIF State Cross Country Championships and this past season won the BVAL title. Her indefatigable ways help the team in several areas.
“Audrey looks really good this year,” Vasquez said. “Her fitness level is key. Whether it’s the first or 80th minute, she’s running the same and stomping down the field. She’s able to run the whole 80 minutes and it doesn’t even look like she’s tired. I don’t think I subbed her out once out of a game last year, and she scored some big goals for us. She’s incredible.”
In addition to Reed and Lema—who made the national team in her age group and had a terrific summer and fall club season—Vasquez pointed to the play of junior Maria Lopez and sophomores Bella Fiorentino and Bethany Urrabazo. Vasquez said he’s plenty excited about Fiorentino and Urrabazo, who form a rock-solid tandem on the backline.
“Bella is tough, quick and fast,” Vasquez said. “She has the skills, technical ability and the knowledge of the game. Bethany is a very physical and rugged defender. She wins a lot of balls in the air for us. For both players, along with all of the younger girls, it’ll be about trying to get them to communicate on the field, especially in the back. We want to get the young players to use their voice in a positive way. The communication in the back (line) is going to be key for us.”
Urrabazo echoed similar sentiments, with her goal to help unify the backline and play cohesively. Urrabazo has always been a physical player; however, in recent years she’s improved her speed, a byproduct from training with some of the school’s track runners.
“Developing some speed has really helped me on the field to win (50-50) balls,” she said. “Being a sophomore, I have a feel for the field and know a lot more about the game and am able to spot things out and help the new people on the team.”
Lopez, a center midfielder, has the ability to impact the flow of play with her ability to make plays whenever she touches the ball. Vasquez will look to players like Lopez to rise up and take on a leadership role. The Acorns have just two seniors on their roster, a sign the program is set up for future success. However, they also feel ready to do special things this season as well.
“Our goal obviously is to win league, but even more importantly get to the playoffs,” Vasquez said. “We’re really excited for the potential and opportunity we have for this year and the next couple of years to do something really great.”