The562’s season previews for the 2022-23 school year are sponsored by Vertical Raise, the official team fundraising partner of The562.
The562’s soccer coverage for the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Beach Futbol Club.
The562’s coverage of Millikan athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Curtis Boyer.
Just one single point. That was the difference between Millikan and a fourth consecutive Moore League championship in girls’ soccer. Under head coach Tino Nunez, the Rams have been perennial contenders in the sport, rattling off three consecutive league titles for the first time in school history.
The Rams are legit, and don’t appear ready to go away any time soon. The next step for the program is to build off its success against their Moore League rivals and advance beyond the second round of the CIF-SS playoffs–something they’ve yet to accomplish during Nunez’ tenure.
“I think that’s the big question mark that we ask ourselves going into each season,” said Nunez, preparing for his 10th year as Millikan head coach. “There’s a big focus on winning league, because that’s your local competition, your rivalries, so you want to win that. And then going into the postseason, it’s just been one of those things where, even when you win that first game, it’s like, can we get that second one?”
That second win has proven elusive, and last season was no different as the Rams suffered a heartbreaking 1-0 loss at Los Alamitos in the second round, the result of a moment of individual brilliance from the Griffins. Nunez remains focused on his team playing its best soccer at the end of the year, while understanding that there are other variables which go into a successful playoff run.
“I think when we have won Moore League that we played some of our better soccer in the postseason,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate to get the matchups that we get, but at the end of the day, it's Division 1, and I think it's the hardest division to be a part of. I think we have to find ways to make sure that we're fresh, and peaking at the end, because it's a lot of soccer.”
One advantage the Rams will have this season is the return of senior forward Sierra Sythe. The returning Moore League Co-Offensive Player of the Year and Wake Forest commit is a special talent to lead the Millikan attack, and she’s got the ability to change a game in an instant. Sythe will be limited at the start of the season as she works back into form following a minor injury, but expectations are high for her senior season.
“I think aside from her talent and what we know she can do on the field, it's how she approaches the game and how she carries herself,” said Nunez of Sythe’s impact. “She's a great leader, a great teammate, she's humble, and he approaches the game the right way. I think that alone is contagious for the group … She’s one of the better players we’ve seen here at Millikan and even in this area, so it’s nice to have her on your side.”
Sythe has stepped into more of a leadership role after the departure of a deep senior class that had anchored the program for the past few seasons. Even with so much of the team moving on to the next level, the Rams are confident in their ability to fill those holes with younger players who’ve been steadily developing and improving within the program.
“It's really been about mentoring and building this new team culture, because we had so many players leave last year,” Sythe explained. “But we're looking forward to it just as much. The team has so much passion this year, and the outlook is really good. We've been training since the summer and just being able to be together that much and cultivating that understanding of each other and how we play, it's been really great for us.”
Senior Hannah Marshall will provide terrific pace and playmaking ability along the wings, but the midfield will require the largest makeover for the Rams with so much of the spine of the team gone. Players like Audrey Stewart, Sydney Trump, Mya Delaney, Bela Menes, Sophia Nygaard, Kaylee Monrroy, and others will look to replace some of the Rams’ veteran talent from a season ago.
At the back, senior Keira Ashworth is an experienced All-League defender, joined by Emma Arkus and Alissey Fang. Senior Jordan Mendoza should see the most time in goal for the Rams.
“They're getting a year older, so you're expecting them to be that next group to step up and fill those holes,” said Nunez of the new faces in the rotation. “There's a lot of talent, we've been fortunate to get more talent throughout the years, it's just a matter of putting it together and those players being ready for their number to be called on. I'm excited to see what that is.”
Millikan will have some challenging games early in the season, including games against Los Alamitos, Villa Park and Oaks Christian. The Rams will need to get up to speed quickly with challenging road games against top Moore League rivals Poly (Dec. 15) and Wilson (Dec. 22) looming in December.