Nicholas Mattson/Paso Robles
Atascadero High School junior Serena Ramirez gets after the ball at AHS Memorial Stadium.
Atascadero falls in opener to PAC 8 defending champ San Luis Obispo
ATASCADERO — In his second season at the helm of the Atascadero High School girls soccer program, Miguel Figueroa continues to implement a team-minded professionalism into the ranks, and a business-like mentality to the fun of high school soccer.
Win, but have fun, but win.
Atascadero was a challenger last season, and only lost one senior in Rachel Foley. They now regroup for a run at one of the best teams in California last season — San Luis Obispo.
In 2015-16, SLO made a strong postseason run, into the CIF Southern Section Division 3 semifinals, where they lost to Yorba Linda, 2-1, and then to the CIF-SS Regional Division 3 Championship game, where they lost to South Hills, 2-1.
They will pose an immediate threat to the girls season, as the Greyhounds travel to face the Tigers on Tuesday, Jan. 3 for the season opener.
So far this season, the Greyhounds stand 6-1-2 overall, with a pair of scoreless ties to Orcutt Academy and Buena. The team’s only loss came in its last game, a 1-0 loss to Oxnard. According to MaxPreps rankings, Oxnard is ranked No. 50 in California. SLO is ranked No. 41. Atascadero sits at No. 211, and is on the bubble of jumping into contention as a top team in the area.
Meanwhile, Figueroa and the team is working to field the best team possible. For Figueroa, that begins with the mind, and he applies his philosophy from the top down.
“They start understanding the purpose about the Atascadero program,” Figueroa said. “They understand they have to build that respect and camaraderie, because in the end that is the only thing you take from this. The soccer is fine, but it goes away. The friendships and the relationships stay forever.”
His challenge rests with the seniors, who have one last chance to raise the bar for the next generation.
“I challenge them to have a vision to leave a legacy,” Figueroa said. “I asked them how they achieve that, and they said ‘to get along.’ I said the way to achieve success is to talk to your underclassmen, and tell them, we want to leave on top, but we cannot do it on our own. We need your help.”
Senior midfielder Makayla Fetzer has picked up that leadership mentality.
“We want to work together,” Fetzer said. “Through that we can build each other up.”
This edition of the Greyhounds team is built on defense, with returning senior Hina “The Wall” Nogi leading with tenacious defense.
“Our defense is super strong,” Fetzer said, “with Hina [Nogy] and whoever else is back there. It is like a wall. Nobody gets past our defense.”
Nogy and the Greyhounds defense, including AHS freshman phenom Mackenzie Wright, protect sophomore goalie Claire Lohayza, who works to direct that defensive wall back up the field.
“They are really strong and have chemistry together,” Lohayza said. “They get the ball up to our mids really well, and we build up from the back.”
Working together, and being bigger than any one person, the Greyhounds have a shot at overcoming some of the obstacles that hindered them last year, costing close games.
“Even when one player gets beat, another player will cover,” Melanie Ragain said. “Then the other player will cover, and it is a great connection that the whole defense has as a team. They know when to play the ball or pass around and that really helps connect the offensive team.”
Heading into the season, Figueroa’s philosophy is taking shape, and the Hounds will need all of it against San Luis Obispo, which brings back a load of returning varsity players. Atascadero, however, is focused on what it needs to do.
“Train hard, keep our mindset positive, and play to our potential,” AHS senior Hannah Flickinger said.
For the seniors, there is a lot going on, and soccer is a break from the mental and emotional grind of the year — and that is where some players find fun … between the thrill of victory and that agony of defeat.
“Competitive soccer is fun,” AHS senior Allison Keil. “When it gets aggressive and you forget everything — finals, school, family life, and you are just only in the game … that is fun. When you forget everything else.”
Seniors Marina Garcia and Brenae Damery round out the six players in their final season. Behind them is a strong junior class with Lexi Setting, Beth and Ali Andrade, Faye Pineda, Casey Dempsey, Mariah Byler, and standout striker Serena Ramirez and “The Wall” Nogi.
Two sophomores and five freshman make up the underclassmen.
Atascadero lost the opener to San Luis Obispo on Tuesday, 1-0.
Share on Facebook