The starting four defenders on the Rio Mesa High girls’ soccer team, affectionately called “The Usuals” by head coach Gonzalo “Gonzo” Rodriguez, steady a sturdy Spartan ship.
Rachel Tassano is a senior sweeper and captain.
Cynthia Ceja, a junior, is an enforcer at the stopper position.
Amanda Lopez, a senior, and sophomore Meadow Hardy are quick outside defenders.
Together, “The Usuals” are more menacing than Barcelona’s back line.
“Defense is the key,” Rodriguez said. “If you don’t give a team shots, they can’t score. They’re solid back there.”
Rio Mesa, 12-5-3 overall and 3-1 in the Pacific View League at press time, was stoked to defeat Camarillo for the first time in four seasons.
The Spartans, ranked No. 9 in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 coaches’ poll, upended the Scorpions 2-0 at home last week.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Tassano said. “We’ve tried in the past. We definitely wanted it this year. We knew what we wanted and we took it from them.”
Lopez said the Spartans entered the Camarillo match mentally focused and primed to pounce.
“It’s our rival,” Lopez said. “You have to win. We were feeling confident. In our minds, we thought we could beat Camarillo. They’re not going to beat us.”
A four-year varsity veteran, Tassano is a consistent force.
She picks up teammates with positive reinforcement but also yells instructions in the heat of the action.
Tassano said younger Spartans, including six freshmen, push the upperclassmen.
“The freshmen have really stepped up,” the captain said. “I like how everyone’s playing for everyone else. There’s big teamwork.”
Although Rio Mesa’s best finish in the Pacific View League during Tassano’s career is third place, the Spartans have a shot to win a league crown.
Rio Mesa must support each other, play aggressively and convert opportunities, Tassano said.
“This is a happy team. We love to be with each other,” said Tassano, an honors student with a 4.1 grade-point average who is considering playing Division III soccer at Pomona-Pitzer or Redlands.
Lopez was last season’s pleasant surprise, Rodriguez said.
She’s at it again, making more stops than the CHP on New Year’s Eve.
Lopez said this team has solid chemistry on and off the pitch.
“We have confidence,” said Lopez, an honors student who wants to become a doctor.
“We know how to play together. We’re going to keep pushing forward, and no one’s going to underestimate us.”
Lopez had a busy summer. She played for three different teams, shuffling between games and practices with her high school, Oxnard Police Activities League and the Oxnard Blues club squads.
There’s a certain pride that goes with playing for “The Usuals.”
“We know each other and cover for each other,” Lopez said. “We know each other so well it’s easy to play.”
Ceja has been this season’s pleasant surprise, Rodriguez said.
Although she roams in the backfield, Ceja moves up to attack when necessary. She scored a penalty kick goal in the Grace Brethren tournament championship against Sierra Canyon.
Ceja said she must continue to hone her skills.
“I want to get better at controlling the ball and dribbling,” Ceja said.
Hardy said she enjoys suiting up for the Spartans, who started the season 5-0-3.
“I absolutely love how this team has bonded,” Hardy said. “When we do what we’re supposed to, we play really good soccer.”
The sophomore plays with a competitive edge.
“I always work hard and do whatever it takes to win,” said Hardy, who competes in the hurdles, long jump and 200-meter run in track. “I try to be super aggressive.”
In her first year of high school soccer, Alison Stymacher has made a positive impact starting in the cage.
“She’s always asking questions,” assistant coach Chris Holdsworth said of Stymacher.
“She wants to get better. She has the right attitude.”
On offense, the Spartans move the ball with precise passes.
Although this is a fast team, Rio Mesa avoids a kick-and-run game, preferring to move up and down the pitch in unison.
Karissa Sandoval is the “epitome of a striker,” according to Rodriguez. She’s aggressive and never gives up on a play.
Sandoval led the team with 12 goals and seven assists entering Thursday’s outing.
Freshman Desiree Gonzalez complements Sandoval up top. The lightning-quick Gonzalez had eight goals at press time.
“The two of them together are dangerous,” the head coach said.
Jena Nava, a senior captain and center midfielder, had eight goals.
“We have a lot of talent this year to go far,” said Nava, an honors student with a 3.8 GPA who also runs cross country and track.
“I really want to win league, win CIF and graduate. It will be nice to do my own thing, call my own shots.”
Freshman Nayeli Moreno and senior Jazmin Gonzalez bolster the midfield.
Liz Bednar and Alexis Neuman are the other seniors.
Sasha Ceja, Kyra Harbus, Karina Herrejon, Karla Mendez, Sabrina Ramos and Angie Solloa add roster depth. Rick Torres, the girls’ cross country coach, is a varsity assistant and JV head coach.
A Rio Mesa special education resource teacher, Gonzalo Rodriguez has coached the Spartans since 2000-01. The squad reached the section semifinals in 2003, the best finish in the coach’s tenure.
“If we show up as a team and play our game,” Rodriguez said, “we can play with anyone.”