First published in the Dec. 16 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
Typically the San Marino High School girls’ varsity soccer team has been one of the school’s more successful entries that the winter sports season has to offer.
However, victories have been hard to come by recently for SMHS. But if anyone can scratch out the right lineup or concoct the correct training regimen to pull the Titans out of their current tailspin, it’s head coach Jaime Acuña, who has had the right answers since coming to town 15 years ago.
San Marino was winless during the most recent soccer season that was played this spring due to the pandemic. The Titans posted an 0-6-2 mark which was highlighted by draws with Rio Hondo League rivals Monrovia and South Pasadena.
But alas, this is another season and if coaching high school soccer has taught Acuña one thing, it’s the transitory nature of the sport: Things will change.
One new entry on Acuña’s lesson plan is an introduction to San Marino High School’s weight room. The coach has added a tone-building element to his training sessions this year in an effort to improve the squad’s “physicality,” a new term in the modern sports lexicon.
The Titans are also very young, but developing rapidly under Acuña’s tutelage. Sophomore defender Kaitlyn An is a first-year varsity player whose position is defensive right back.
“Kaitlyn is a smart player with good vision and is physical when she needs to be,” said Acuña. “She doesn’t put herself in unnecessary battles which get other players distracted from what is going on that is of importance. Kaitlyn is very smart and uses her excellent vision to her advantage.”
Sophomore Sophia Armendariz is another first-year varsity athlete who is a defender and also a forward.
“You can plug her in anywhere and she will work for us,” said Acuña. “She is our enforcer. Sophia is not afraid to get physical. She is also very industrious and hardworking. She has been an excellent addition to this team.”
Katy Bell, San Marino’s senior captain, is the leader of our team, according to the coach. “Katy leads both by her example on the field and and also by her communication,” said Acuña. “She is the most experienced player we have. She plays center-back and sees the whole field. Katy will settle us down, when needed. She is an excellent leader.”
Sophomore defensive midfielder Sophia Bilvado is what Acuña affectionately refers to as a “disruptor.”
“Sophia plays and works very hard,” said the coach. “We look for her to disrupt any progress that another team might be getting. She works from touchline to touchline and is not afraid to get physical with an opponent.”
Junior Alyson Garcia adds skill and speed to the concoction.
“Alyson is the most technical player we have on our team in both the midfield and the forward positions,” said Acuña. “We are looking for her to be our playmaker. She is the heartbeat of our team and is very adept at getting the attack started.”
Coming off a successful cross-country season, freshman Kayla Giddings will be expected to use her outstanding speed, endurance and determination for the soccer squad.
“Kayla is fast and hard-working,” Acuña said. “She understands the game and works hard. We are looking for her to be a threat in behind the opponents’ defense with her speed. Kayla can also create off the dribble. She is extremely fast and has tons of potential.”
First-year varsity player Isis Gil-Smith has been hampered by an early season injury, but Acuña expects the forward to be returning to form very soon.
“Isis has good technical ability on the ball,” Acuña said. “She can get past defenders and is a very smart player. We are looking forward to the many contributions Isis can make to the team.”
Junior goalkeeper Gabrielle Goldberg has impressed her coach, who, himself, an accomplished netminder during his playing career.
“Gabrielle has great shot-blocking ability,” Acuña said. “She also is fearless. We are hoping that she will keep playing because when she has played, she has made great saves. We are extremely excited to have her on this team.”
Freshman Lauren Martinez has made a quick and positive impression on her coach.
“Lauren is good on the ball and is that player who will switch from one side of the field to the other to get us out of tight spaces. She is excellent at playing the long ball and can see the whole field. She has been an excellent addition to our team.”
Tessa Mavridis, a junior, provides much-needed experience to the lineup.
“Tessa is a dynamic player,” Acuña said. “If we lose the ball, she is going to win it back for us. She loves to battle and is a fighter. On the ball she is aggressive at going at defenders and when we apply pressure up top it will typically come from Tessa. She sets the tone for us defensively.”
Junior Taline Nesnas has added a dash of positive attitude to the recipe.
Taline is solid and versatile,” Acuña said. “She doesn’t get beat and can hold her ground against anyone. She is up for any battle and is also a good communicator out of the back. Taline is a great student of the game who wants everyone else on the team to get better. That is the sign of a great teammate.”
Freshman Charli Redshaw has excelled at center midfielder.
“Charli makes that an attacking position,” Acuña said. “She does it all. Charli can play the long ball or the short ball with equal skill. She is a spectacular talent and will be one of those players who will be under consideration for all-league in the future. Charli can score, she can create and she can defend. She does it all.”
Sophomore Aubrey Wendling is another first-year varsity player who is making her mark on the team through hard work and dedication.
“We like her speed and her tenacity,” Acuña said. “Aubrey is not afraid to go at players. She is getting better and had an excellent base to work with. She works hard every day at practice.”
Sophomore Calista Tan has provided the Titans with some of her experience and even filled in at goalkeeper during a recent pinch.
“Calista made some great saves for us,” said Acuña. “We appreciate the hard work she has put in for the program.”
Hard work has been the key to San Marino’s legacy of soccer success and the Titans will need more of the same if they expect to compete in the traditionally tough Rio Hondo League.
“La Cañada and South Pasadena both have experienced players coming back this year and Temple City is also very good,” said Acuña, who lets his squad’s actions speak louder than his words. “We have our hands full.”