The strong leadership of coach Tino Nunez and a dedication to playing a cohesive style has moved Millikan girls’ soccer into the role of favorites in the Moore League. The Rams have won three consecutive league titles for the only time in program history, and are trying to win a fourth for the first time since Wilson did it from 2005-08.
Despite the impressive streak, Nunez doesn’t want his reloaded squad to rest on the accomplishments of team’s past.
“The message has been, ‘It was great, some of you have experienced it, but all of us here together with this new group haven’t done anything for Millikan girls’ soccer,’” Nunez said. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and we know we have to work even harder. Obviously people are trying to take us down.”
While the girls with club commitments have slowly trickled back into regular training this month, Nunez already likes the competitive spirit and mindset of this group.
“Overall it’s a good returning core that I’m excited to work with,” Nunez said. “This year all-around we’re well balanced. We’re still looking to see who is going to come in and be part of the depth and who we can count on. The big question mark is that a lot of goals graduated last year.”
The hot scoring streak of Moore League Co-Offensive Player of the Year Courtney Cummings helped lift Millikan to the top of the league standings and lead the Rams to a notable CIF playoff win over JSerra last season. Now Nunez is looking to a few girls to step up and create that offense.
Junior Sydney Trump will play the role of facilitator on the front line because she has a deft skill of holding up the ball to get other players involved. She will be creating those chances for players like juniors Hannah Marshall and Sierra Sythe.
Marshall was named first-team All-Moore League after finishing the year strong with a few important goals. Sythe played some outside back in those big games and can use her natural speed to pressure opposing back lines.
Senior Josie English is a team captain and leader in the midfield after being named Co-Midfielder of the Year last season. She is a four-year Varsity player and will be flanked by technical cohorts senior Hannah Davy and sophomore Mya Delaney. Davy plays on the same elite Beach FC ECNL club team and she plays box to box as the holding eight position. Delaney will be key to winning balls in the air.
Sophomore Isabela Menes will also be back in the midfield after getting good experience as a freshman.
“Ideally we want to knock it around, we want to play through our midfield, but I think we’re going to have to balance it out using our speed up top and clean play in the back,” Nunez said. “I think you will see moments where we’ll have to go, and moments where we’ll settle and use that extra pass.”
The defense will be led by twin team captains Natalie Paulson and Danielle Paulson. The seniors are three year Varsity starters. Natalie will primarily play left back, and Danielle will be joined by junior Kira Ashworth at center back. Nunez said the right back position is currently a battle between a few underclassmen.
Millikan has to replace Co-Goalkeeper of the Year Savanna Alba, and Nunez is letting seniors Jordan Mendoza and Alicia Calderon battle for playing time. Both have Varsity experience and will split time until one of them emerges as the starter.
Nunez has put together a challenging non-league schedule with games against Huntington Beach, Cypress, Villa Park and Los Alamitos so his team can learn their own weaknesses.
“I want it to expose us and help us get better so we are ready for league,” Nunez said. “I’d rather do that than feel overconfident and lie to ourselves.”
Nunez added that he knows one result can end up defining the season.
“Nothing is predictable,” he said. “Even the years we were close to winning it there were small margins of what got you the title. It’s going to take everyone coming together quickly, especially in those big league games.”
Millikan opens the league schedule with games against rival Lakewood (Dec. 7) and Poly (Dec. 14).