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Homegrown Trio Lock It Down For Long Beach State Women’s Soccer

Sarah Maher, Imani McDonald and Sarah Pilster (left to right) are true Long Beach soccer players. The homegrown trio all played high school soccer together in the Moore League, and club soccer with Beach FC, before attending Long Beach State and becoming integral pieces of Mauricio Ingrassia’s defense.

LBSU (12-5-3) won the Big West Conference championship last weekend, and will make its seventh NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008 on Friday at USC.

“Obviously you want to tap into the local recruits, and that was kind of a way to have a familiarity with our program,” Big West Coach of the Year Mauricio Ingressa said of creating Beach FC in 2008. “There is an element that is important to have. That local flavor ties the community in.”

McDonald (Poly), Maher (Wilson) and Pilster (Poly) are all born and raised in Long Beach, and have filled that local quota for the last four years at LBSU. This year, McDonald won her goalkeeping job back for a stellar senior season that included 12 shutouts, Maher was named Big West Defender of the Year as a senior center back and the sophomore Pilster played multiple positions across the back line.

We caught up with McDonald, Maher and Pilster at training this week to talk about their Long Beach soccer lives…

The562: You’ve all played multiple sports growing up, so why did you choose soccer?
McDonald: Well, my friends were playing it and I didn’t want to feel left out.
Maher: At first I hated it, and hated people watching me. I refused to play. Then my sister started playing, so I was like, ‘Ok, I guess’ and it stuck ever since.
Pilster: I just like running around.
McDonald: Who likes running!?
Pilster: I do. I used to play volleyball, but I like running around and soccer is a more intense game for me, and I really enjoy that.

The562: All of you played at different clubs before joining Beach FC. Why did you make the move to a new club?
McDonald: At my old club it was just basics. Here you actually play soccer and emulate actual professional clubs as opposed to just kicking the ball and running.
Maher: Yeah, it’s just a better style of soccer.
Pilster: And it’s more competitive. I felt like I needed to be more competitive to play in college.

The562: You played with and against each other for two years in the Moore League. Do you ever talk about the old days?
McDonald: Oh yeah, Sarah brings up once a week how…
Maher: How I scored on Imani!
McDonald: See! Yes, I remember it vividly.
Maher: We still lost, but I scored on you.

The562: Do you take pride in being homegrown Long Beach soccer players?
McDonald: Yeah, 100 percent.
Maher: I feel like Long Beach has a different vibe. Everyone from Long Beach is just Long Beach, Long Beach, Long Beach. And it’s cool to represent that at the college level as players who were born and raised here.

The562: Maher, you’ve played some many different positions, from striker at Wilson to center back at LBSU, but you have to be happy where you landed for your senior year.
Maher: Looking back it was a long road with a lot of ups and downs, but it couldn’t have ended on a better note. Everything made me fight more. I sat most of sophomore year because I kind of got comfortable, and it was taken away. It made me realize I had to work at a different level.

The562: The same is true for you, McDonald. You also got playing time as a freshman like Sarah, and then had to battle for playing time until this year.
McDonald: You get to see things from a different perspective. It’s really different coming in working your hardest and feeling your best, but not being on the field. It gives you some tough skin and character— knowing that whatever you’re giving to your team will make it better. Especially my position. Everything has happened for a reason.

The562: Pilster, were you surprised that you started 16 of 18 games as a freshman last year?
Pilster: I had no expectations coming in. I just came in to play my heart out and see what happens. I was so ecstatic to play because the intensity is so high. I have two more years to go here, and I can’t wait.

The562: Your long throw ins are a great offensive weapon for LBSU. How did you learn to do that?
Pilster: Volleyball. I trained in the weight room for volleyball in high school, and I just got arm muscles out of nowhere. All of a sudden I could throw the ball long. I’ve been working on it ever since and now it goes pretty far.

The562: What’s the key to a good throw?
Pilster: Stretch your back.

The562: McDonald, everyone was talking about how good your drop kick punts were in the Big West championship game last weekend. Isn’t that something you said you wanted to work on while you were in high school?
McDonald: During my junior year I hadn’t perfected my drop kick, and the Poly boys’ soccer coach Matt Kromminga just hit over 100 drop kicks with me. Him, and my Beach FC coach Patrick Seymour helped me a lot.

The562: What’s the key to a good drop kick?
McDonald: Making good contact and rotating your hips. If there is no wind, you’re good.

The562: Maher, you were named Big West Defensive Player of the Year, but you also scored goals. How do you change your mentality from defense to offense?
Maher: I don’t get to go up an be in the box very often, so I’m just trying to get anything on ball. We don’t care if we take each other out, we just have something on it.

The562: Pilster, you wear sunglasses during games. Do your opponents talk to you about your shades?
Pilster: No, but people on the sidelines always ask if they’re actual glasses. They’re glasses, and I can’t really see without them. I don’t wear contacts, and I can’t see, so I wear these. Honestly, I’ve grown to love my goggles. They’re me, and I’m my own person.

The562: How is Mauricio Ingrassia different from any other soccer coach you’ve had?
Maher: He really knows the game and knows what he’s talking about. What made me want to come here was the style, and it’s so much about everything at Long Beach State soccer. Playing on the ground, and not kicking it big. You can see in Big West other teams trying to play like us. He’s obviously doing something right.
McDonald: The whole coaching staff knows how to break down a team with passing sequences and stuff like that.

The562: Maher and McDonald, you’re in the same class, but how long have you known each other?
Maher: Like 5 years old. She’s obviously a really good goalie, and when I scored on her in high school it was like the best day of my life.
McDonald: You can always count on Sarah Maher. If I mess up, she’s right there, and if she messes up, I’m right there. I’m grateful for this entire experience with her.

The562: What was it like welcoming Psalter to the team two years ago?
Maher: She’s always working hard and the front of the line in fitness. She’s pushing the back line to step up our game. She’s setting the bar.
McDonald: I give her a lot of crap because she’s like my little sister. Even though we do share too much. We’re travel roommates, she’s always there. She’s the little sister I always wished I had. She’ll be one of my bridesmaids since she says she’s going to plan my wedding.
Pilster: You know I’d have it all organized!

The562: Pilster, do you look at McDonald as an older sister?
Pilster: Imani is an incredible person on and off of the field. One of the things I love about her the most is how she integrate all of the classes together. She is a part of ASI and SAAC, and she forced me to go with her to SAAC as a freshman. Honestly, I’m going to continue on her legacy with that. And I actually like her yelling at me.
McDonald: You might be the only one who likes my yelling.
Pilster: I’m used to it.

The562: What’s it like being on the back line with Maher?
Pilster: She is one of the hardest working people I know, and she’s such a positive person that I’m sad I don’t get to play with her for another two years. She made me a better player.

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It may be years before LBSU soccer has three Moore League players on the roster again as elite local players are choosing private school more often. However, Ingrassia hopes that Beach FC can still give Long Beach soccer a true proving ground.

“Just because they’re not playing in high school doesn’t mean there isn’t Long Beach talent,” Ingrassia said. “Though the club, in the same colors, I think there is Long Beach to be had.”

JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.