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.