Youthful exuberance can show itself in different ways, as evidenced by the San Luis Obispo High girls soccer team’s 4-2 win over Lompoc to open the 2015-16 season Tuesday night in San Luis Obispo.
The Tigers team, with as many as four freshman on the field at one time, burst forward at every opportunity and outshot the Braves 27-3. However, many of those shots sailed wide, or high, or into the sprawling arms of Lompoc’s keeper Ali Gonzalez.
Despite a low shooting percentage, a goal each from freshmen Ariadna Maza and Joella Holmes in the second half gave San Luis Obispo (1-0-0) a convincing win over Lompoc (1-1-0) to start the season.
Junior striker Rylie Johnson, one of only a handful of Tigers players who saw the field last season, scored the match’s first goal on a corner kick-turned-scrum.
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“We created a lot of good chances,” San Luis Obispo coach Leslie O’Connor said. “We are very quick going forward, and we have a lot of stylish little players who like to play.”
O’Connor, who from 1995 to 2007 won seven Central Section championships and coached the Bakersfield High girls soccer team to a 306-28-40 record, coached the Tigers for the first time Tuesday after the school was unable to fill the position vacated by Kaleena Andruss last season.
“We are definitely a young team, and we are just starting to get to know each other,” said Sierra Nunes, one of only four seniors on the team. “We pulled off that win, but I think we have a lot to work on.”
Last season, the Tigers were composed of nine seniors and finished the year with an 11-9-4 record and ended with a first-round exit in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoffs. Now, Nunes, along with classmate and co-captain Grace Wearda, have taken on the roles of mentors for a team that has 11 players who are sophomores or freshmen.
One of the young guns, sophomore Amelia Corpuz Carr, flashed into the box to score on a deflection at the end of the first half to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead. The score was tied 2-2 heading into halftime, but the Tigers controlled the ball most of the half, and the match.
“You just want to keep them motivated and give them confidence and develop them so they can play their best, because we have some good talent,” Nunes said.
The Tigers’ inexperience showed itself briefly in the first half on the backline against Lompoc. The defense wasn’t tested much thanks to stellar play in the midfield, but Lompoc scored two goals on two shots against a defense that features two freshmen on the left and right sides.
“We just need to work on pressing and stepping to the ball quicker,” Tigers center back Wearda said. “We need to keep communicating, because that’s where we fall usually.”
“The kids worked hard, and they are just trying to learn that kind of mental state of playing constantly at a high level, high pressure,” O’Connor said. “It takes time.”
O’Connor also used his first game as the Tigers head coach to experiment with lineups, moving his young players all over the field like checkers.
“That’s what I like to do, because ultimately everyone is getting an opportunity to figure out what their role could be, where they can play,” O’Connor said. “The first game of the season isn’t important, it’s when it’s the 28th of February and you’re trying to make the playoffs, that’s when it’s important.”