The Live Oak High girls soccer team will only go as far as its chemistry will take it.
“Our chemistry is holding us back right now,” said Bella Fiorentino, a junior defender. “We’re all good individually, but we’re not playing as a team. If we do, we can have a really good year.”
The Acorns are coming off back-to-back Central Coast Section playoff appearances, having gone 1-2 in the process. Last season, they got knocked out 3-0 in the opening round by Menlo School, which went on to win the Division I championship. However, the result might not have been so one-sided had Live Oak had its best player in forward Karlie Lema.
Lema was unable to play in the game after receiving a red card in the last game of the regular-season. Without their star scorer, the Acorns were in deep. Now they’re hoping to take the next step this season. Having lost just one or two starters off last year’s team, Live Oak hopes to contend for a Blossom Valley League Mount Hamilton Division championship and make a deep run in the playoffs.
Acorns coach Tony Vasquez said the season will be predicated on one critical area—Lema trusting her teammates so she can give up the ball when she’s being double- or triple-teamed and her teammates being able to make teams pay for focusing all of their attention on the fleet-footed forward.
“Karlie has to be able to trust them and they have to be able to finish,” Vasquez said. “If we get some people to take pressure off Karlie, we’ll be in great shape.”
One of those players who is capable of doing that is junior midfielder Audrey Reed, who is a three-year starter. Reed is able to hold onto the ball and work well with Lema. Vasquez said Reed is the team’s No. 2 scoring option, with sophomore forward Andrea Gonzalez the third scoring go-to option.
“I think Audrey can step up and definitely take the lead and be a goal scorer for us,” said Vasquez, who noted Lema had scored eight or nine goals through the team’s first six games of the season in which it went 3-2-1.
Even though Lema has been a member of the U.S. youth national teams for a while, she thoroughly enjoys the high school experience. Granted, the competition is not the same as high-level national team play or club ball, but she gets to play with her best friend, Reed, and the experience is worth more than anything. In addition, Lema knows she can grow as a player by playing high school soccer.
“I’m going to have to get better,” said Lema, who made a verbal commitment to play at Cal the summer before her freshman year. “(I need to elevate the play of my teammates), learn how to work in tight spaces and get around the defenders who are on me.”
Lema arrived in Florida this past Sunday as part of the pool of players vying to make the final roster of the U.S. 17-and-under team that will compete in the World Cup in early 2021. A dynamic talent, Lema admits she’s still working to develop the proverbial athlete’s killer instinct because it’s a trait that would aid in her development and rise to the top. Lema will miss two weeks of school and games to be in the U17 camp, but she’s optimistic when she returns, the Acorns will be a better team from her absence. That’s because Live Oak won’t be able to rely on Lema, and other players will have to step up to fill the void.
“It’s been a fun season so far, but I think we can do better,” Lema said. “We’ve had a lot of players hurt (early in the season), but they’re all coming back and that should make us a stronger team.”
Junior Molly Newquist plays alongside Fiorentino on the backline, and the two have a strong cohesiveness as they have played together on the same club team for the past couple of years. Senior Julie Diaz, who has been nursing an injury, has the potential to make a big impact, Vasquez said. Junior Emma Courtney returns for her second season as the starting goalkeeper, and the three-sport standout—Courtney also plays field hockey and softball—has done well, especially given the fact this is only her second year playing the position.
“I’m taking all the information I received last year and using it this season,” Courtney said. “I still feel a little rusty, but Tony makes sure I’m getting all of my touches in. My goal is to get better at the things I didn’t know how to do last year, like when to attack, develop a better first touch and take charge in the goal.”
Said Vasquez: “Emma is very smart and athletic and is able to play goalie, which is great for us.”
Senior midfielder Megan Quadrini and her sister—freshman outside fullback Grace Quadrini—along with Reed are key in Live Oak maintaining possession and controlling the flow of the game. In the first 10 to 15 minutes of each match, the Acorns like to play a kick and run game with Lema, who possesses blazing speed. After that, they like to play more of a possession-type game since the over-the-top passes to Lema are no longer a surprise to the opponents. Fiorentino mentioned some players as key for the Acorns to control the possession.
“Megan and Audrey work well together in the middle and create a lot of space for everyone else to make plays,” Fiorentino said. “Grace on the outside defense is good, too. Her and Megan both kind of play the same, and they both have really good possession of the ball.”
Megan Quadrini said it has been a joy to be able to play with her sister Grace for the first time in their career. Since they are three years apart, the two have never been able to play on the same team until now. Due to some injuries on the team, Megan has actually played alongside Grace at fullback lately, which has made the experience all the more enjoyable.
“We’ve definitely created more of a bond because I’m trying to help her and teach her the ways of Live Oak soccer,” Megan said. “She’s one of the best players on the team and way better than I was at that age. She’s one of the smallest girls on team, but holds her own, is aggressive and uses her technique and ball skills (she learned) from club (to make an impact). She’s the only left-footed girl on the team, so any time she can cross with the left foot or do free kicks, we give her that chance because we’re confident she’s going to give us scoring opportunities.”
Megan is in her third season on the team, and she said the seniors on the squad experienced big growth from last season in regards to developing leadership qualities, knowing they would have to be exemplary role models this season.
“I want to show someone like my sister what it means to represent your school and the things that go along with that,” Megan said.
The older Quadrini didn’t play in her freshman year due to club commitments; however, as a sophomore she wasn’t about to be denied from playing high school soccer. Although club soccer is where players get noticed and features premier competition, high school soccer offers something club soccer can’t.
“It really stands out from club because your friends and classmates come to watch the game,” she said. “You also get to represent your school, which I think all of us like to do. And the fact we win a lot of games and are able to beat our rivals like Sobrato gives you a lot of pride. I decided in my sophomore year I wanted to get the high school experience, and it’s been great.”
Fiorentino describes herself as “aggressive, big and mean,” noting all center defenders have to play that way. Fiorentino and Newquist display tremendous chemistry on the field, no coincidence since they are good friends off the pitch. Newquist was actually the main driver for Courtney to start playing the goalkeeper position.
“Molly wanted to play in the field during our freshmen year, and I said I would try out for goalie then,” Courtney said. “They saw me do it, and it kind of stuck with me since then.”
As a three-sport standout, Courtney represents something that used to be in vogue but now is slowly fading away—the three-sport athlete. In an era of specialization, Courtney has excelled in field hockey, soccer and softball, with the latter being her best sport. Live Oak represents an outlier in that it has four athletes who play three sports, including Caleb Ojeda, Calvin Robles and Trent Cousens. Courtney wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I like being super busy,” she said. “I don’t like an off-season, I guess.”
Courtney started playing soccer at 3 or 4, but stopped in the fifth grade and didn’t take up the sport again until high school. A lot of Courtney’s friends from the field hockey team were playing soccer, so she decided to give it a try. Fiorentino also does the field hockey-soccer double, and thoroughly enjoyed the team’s 4-0 win over crosstown rival Sobrato High on Dec. 18.
“My best game was probably against Sobrato because there is so much tension,” she said. “You get hyped up, you want to play really well and I do good when I’m under pressure. It was a nice win because in my freshman year we tied them, and that was probably our best team we’ve had here (in the last couple of years). Last year we beat them by two (goals), and this season it was nice to be able to crush them. … My goal is to work on being a better team leader. Karlie, Audrey and I need to work on leading the team and bringing everyone together.”
Live Oak’s only two losses this season have come to a pair of West Catholic League schools in powerhouse St. Francis and St. Ignatius. The Acorns played well in a 1-1 tie with Los Gatos, which entered the week at 5-0-2 and is a traditional CCS power.
“Our best game was against Los Gatos, who was a pretty tough opponent,” Vasquez said. “Obviously beating Sobrato in that rivalry game 4-0 is always fun for the girls, and that was another game where we showed good form as well. So far, so good, and I feel we’ve played a pretty tough preseason (non-league schedule) just to see where we’re at. And I like where we’re at.”