The De La Salle girls program is ready to enter the next phase of its development.
The Meteors, under the direction of coach Carlos Nunez, have made major strides in the past few seasons to become a rising program in Chicago. Last season, De La Salle, which competes in the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference White Division, produced one of the best seasons in program history with a 21-4-0 record, including a shiny 11-0-0 standard at home.
The Meteors won Class AA regional and sectional championships for the first time in program history before suffering a 1-0 defeat to Fenwick in the supersectional round. De La Salle’s playoff run included wins over Morgan Park (9-0), Bremen (4-0), Oak Forest (4-0) and Marist (2-0).
Nunez said the stellar showing raised the bar for returning players and newcomers alike.
“A lot of them are champing at the bit to play, especially after last year,” Nunez said. “We’re introducing the new players to our culture and seeing them work and come together and piece out what our lineup will look like.”
In total, the Meteors lost five players from last season’s record-breaking team, which included three three-year starters.
Gema Garibay, who played in three games as a freshman last fall at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, was one of the key losses that Cruz will have difficulty replacing. The Illinois High School Coaches Association All-State performer had two goals and five assists while playing mostly a defensive role.
Azucena Diaz graduated after contributing to a backline that played a key role in recording 13 shutouts. Diaz tallied three goals and five assists in an all-conference season.
Cruz said the Meteors will sorely miss the big-play production of midfielder Jazzlyne Orozco, who tallied 18 goals and eight assists last season and finished with a program-record 66-career goals.
Yet, Cruz said there is new talent in the pipeline.
“We brought in a couple of freshmen and transfers and hope to continue our run,” he said. “Jazzlyne was such a key player in our program. But recently (winning) has been the norm for us.
“We were able to ride it to the supersectional and played with free money. That group started the run as freshmen. They helped us get invited to play in the upper part of our conference. That crew started to turn things around for us, to become a winning program and win the conference.”
Cruz called last season’s success “a significant feather in my cap” and that it “helped put our program on the map.”
Senior sweeper Mia Loza, a captain, praised the last year’s seniors for instilling a winning culture. Loza, who had eight goals and four assists last season, said she recalls several teaching moments from last season’s stellar group of seniors.
“As I go back and reflect on those seniors who impacted our game intensely, I’ve learned how our team is a family and imperfections are there regardless of how much we may hide them,” Loza said. “The nature of embracing them helps us seek and learn as a whole team.
“Since we came back from winter break, the season has been on countdown. We’re returning from an excellent run last season and added additional members who have heart and passion to the game and make us even better. Just knowing our potential, we can go a long way together.
“The goals for our team are simple: We play as a team and as a collective group with high intensity and that will help us get to whatever we put our mind to. We hope for another strong run.”
Nunez said he expects Loza, an Southern Illinois-Edwardsville recruit who was named the GCAC White Division Player of the Year last season, to be one of the main voices on his team, helping them navigate a tough schedule and high expectations.
The Meteors will seek their third-straight league title this spring.
“Mia shows up and is always in charge,” he said. “She’s an unspoken leader and does things behind the scenes. The biggest thing is having her leadership bridge the gap between those who have remained, are new and are coming in from elsewhere. We’re all pulling on the same rope. She has to take her leadership up a notch.”
Loza said one of the next steps for the program is beating high-quality opponents. The Meteors suffered a 6-0 loss to GCAC Red Division champion Loyola in the middle of the season along with the playoff defeat to Fenwick in another cross-over match.
“Those losses both showed us our weaknesses and imperfections,” Loza said. “Those (tough) games allow us to be humble and know how much we need to work on. It allowed us to tell the story and make the mentality stronger for those harder games in the season to the newcomers.”
Junior midfielder Imani Coleman made some noise last season for the Meteors. Nunez said Coleman has immense potential to be among the best in the city.
“Imani is one of our more recognized players,” Nunez said. “She’s a big, tall outside mid striker. She will challenge our goal-scoring record. She has the possibility of breaking that record. She got double- and triple-teamed a lot. She’s very physical and creates opportunities for others.”
Sophomore forward Kennedi Carpenter gained valuable experience last season. Nunez said Carpenter was a key starter who contributed in tense moments.
“Kennedi scored a lot of big goals for us,” Nunez said. “She’s looking to build on her freshman campaign. She has a tremendous spirit and understands what it means putting on the jersey and representing the Institute. It means a big deal to her.”
Carpenter said one of her favorite memories from last season were the bus rides to away games. She looks forward to adding more memories this spring.
“I feel the strength of our team is our bond,” Carpenter said. “The way we get along with each other and how close we all are is our strength.”
Carpenter feels she’s better suited to handling the pressures of playing high-level soccer this spring.
“I’ve definitely gotten better at taking criticism from my coaches and teammates,” she said. “I’m better at keeping my head high when I make a mistake and fixing it right away. I’m also better fitness-wise.”
Senior Lauren Torres and her younger sister Sophia are key components on the Meteors.
At goalie, the Meteors are in good hands. Senior Emily Samuels is one of the most experienced players in the conference.
“Emily has played every minute since she was a freshman,” Nunez said. “She has never looked back since. She’s very unassuming, but when she gets into the goal, she always surprises me. We would like her to continue to build off what we’ve asked her to do and also expand on her leadership.
“We want Emily to be talking to her defense, just recognize the angles so she can improve on connecting with Mia. We have some young defenders, so they have to work together and communicate.”
The Meteors added Payton to their schedule, plus will compete in three tournaments this season, including the Body Armor event in Schaumburg and the Adidas Tournament of Champions in Bettendorf, Ia.
Loza said the entire program is ready for the challenge of playing in three tournaments.
“It shows growth for our program coming from so little representation to putting our name out in there,” Loza said. “Not only do we represent our coaches and school but also our own culture and family, so that we can do something big.”
De La Salle opened the season in the 32-team Windy City Ram Classic on Tuesday and fell to Class 3A Riverside-Brookfield 4-2. Dixie Zamago and Tatiyana Davis scored, and Samantha Velasco and Loza recorded assists.
The Meteors hope to begin a run to the tournament consolation title when they meet another large-school foe, Curie, at 4:30 p.m. Thursday (March 16) at Reavis High School.