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Padecky: El Molino girls have earned their share of respect


FORESTVILLE — For the first time in 15 years the El Molino girls soccer team has made the NCS playoffs. If someone wanted to know the how and the why of it, the evidence can be seen plainly. Just go to an El Mo practice and watch one of the girls physically push a teammate across the goal line on the football field.

That has nothing to do with scoring a goal, oddly enough. It is much more important than that. It has everything to do with thinking about someone other than yourself.

Alexis Sciacqua, El Molino's first-year coach, runs her team through a daily conditioning drill during the week. The players stand on one goal line and run 100 yards to the other goal line; they need to do it in 20 seconds. The players then turn around and run back; they need to do it in 30 seconds. They are given a minute to rest.

Then they do it again, 11 more times.

If, during any of these sprints, one of the 11 players fails to return in 50 seconds, another 200-yard sprint is added. Of course no one wants to do extra sprints.

So if a girl is struggling, a teammate will slow down, run behind the slower player and physically push her, while exhorting her to finish.

"How many of you are pushers?" I asked the five girls Wednesday, a most unique question to ask athletes.

Val LaForge, Jocelyne Santibanez, Ana Maria Morales and Madison and Emily Dean all raised their hands. Quickly. Enthusiastically. They are team-building and they know it.

Some sports, like tennis, are so individualistic that a team can be successful even though one player may never interact with a teammate during competition. Soccer is not one of those sports.

"If you aren't fit," Sciacqua said, "how do you run down a ball?"

If a ball isn't caught, a scoring chance may be lost. A pass may never be made. An opponent may direct the tempo. A game may never be in control. An out-of-shape soccer player is not a successful soccer player.

"They were a little shocked," said Sciacqua about the first day of practice when she told her troops of the 12 100s. "They weren't expecting it at all."

As a testament to her getting the message across, El Mo's girls have never gone more than 13 times up-and-down the field. They adjusted to expectations which, in the past, were not a huge part of their game plan.

"We kinda goofed around," LaForge said.

Sciacqua is not anti-fun. She is, however, anti-goofing around. Sciacqua was a goalie at Sonoma State and thrived under the demanding expectations of coach Emiria Salzmann-Dunn. Salzmann-Dunn is legendary for her emphasis on conditioning. For those uninspired players, who view sweat as an obstruction to happiness, Sciacqua would be seen as dogmatic, unyielding and harsh. But for those who wanted something more than the previous season ...

"I don't even know what our record was," Santibanez said. "I think we won two games."

Fact further, none of the five girls could remember their 2012 record, so unsavory was the memory. It was, unfortunately, an extension of what they thought of themselves as players.

"Losers" was the way LaForge put it.

Sciacqua, also a goal keeper at Montgomery, didn't promise her players an undefeated season. However, she did say the players would enjoy the season more, even if those conditioning drills would feel like working in a sweat shop.

"It was exciting for us to get challenged," LaForge said.

"We were nervous and excited," Santibanez said.

Sciacqua's message was clear: You will not be submissive cupcakes out there. Sciacqua refused to be influenced by a culture of negative images. It was a huge reason El Molino Athletic Director Mike Roan hired Sciacqua. She wasn't going to submit, accept the past as unchangeable.

"Alexis was not intimidated at all," Roan said, "even if she was young and inexperienced. That was impressive."

Sciacqua is 22, two semesters away from earning her SSU degree in human development, with a minor in childhood education.

She works at 24 Hour Fitness in Rohnert Park as a service representative. One day she'll be an elementary school teacher. Every day, if she has her druthers, she'll be coaching soccer because the sport supplies a need innate in her.

"I am a very competitive person and I hate to lose," Sciacqua said. "Our goal was to make the girls believe in themselves."

Sciacqua's best friend and former SSU teammate, Bryana Robles, is her assistant coach. Rohnert Park roommates as well, Robles and Sciacqua found their approach took immediate root.

"We can actually play the ball with our feet now," LaForge said.

"It was the fifth game of the season, against Piner," Morales said, "that we really started to believe."

"You didn't feel like lower class," Santibanez said.

The Lions are 6-6 on the season and will find out their NCS opponent Sunday afternoon. That they are in this position is a judgment Sciacqua can authenticate. Throughout the season Sciacqua reminded her players of a preseason quotation made by another coach: That the only schools that will be competitive in the SCL are Petaluma, Analy and Sonoma Valley.

"We wanted to prove people wrong," LaForge said.

They found they were succeeding just by looking at the faces of their competitors. Stunned. Surprised. Perplexed. They found respect is what they found. They found people watching them and, at different times, they saw jaws dropping.

Like the time in the middle of a match against Piner when sophomore Akaylia Davis ripped off the soft cast protecting his dislocated elbow. It was constricting her. She had enough of that.

A true competitor was shown for all to see. Someone who thinks of herself as a loser doesn't do that.

It may be the signature moment of this season. When El Molino's girls most demonstrably left their past behind.

"I think we rubbed off on them," Sciacqua said of herself and her assistant.

How can she tell?

"They hate losing," Sciacqua said.

Which, of course, should be the goal of everyone who plays sports at El Molino.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.