December 5, 2003

Muñoz Preserving Teams Winning Tradition

By John Philip Wyllie

Over the years, Bonita Vista High School has produced a number of outstanding female soccer players. Many of them have gone on to excel in college and a few have even played internationally. Jen (Lalor) Nielsen was capped 23 times over a nine year period for the U.S. national team while Mexican-American stars: Linnea Quinones, Lina Valderrama, Erica Rodriquez and Christina Romero have all suited up for Mexico. All-CIF midfielder and 2002 Mesa League Player of the Year Jessica Muñoz, currently a junior at the South Bay School, might someday become the next Baron to follow in that grand tradition.

“It’s been my dream to play U.S. national team ever since I was five years old,” Muñoz said following Tuesday’s preparations for this weekend’s annual Baron Tournament. “Ever since I was a young kid, I have looked up to players like Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm and Shannon MacMillan.” With the competition growing ever stronger to secure one of the few coveted spots on the U.S. national team, a less daunting option for Munoz might be to lend her services to Mexico.

“Making any national team would be an honor, so if I end up on the Mexican national team that would be just as good,” she said. “I’d still be playing against the same great competition, just on another team.” While she hopes a shot at international competition lies in her future, Muñoz is currently more focused on the present. And for her and her Bonita Vista High teammates, that means keeping “the streak” alive.

Remarkably, over the last 21 years, the Barons have never lost a single game during league play. Several years ago they established a national record for consecutive league victories, so every time they win, the bar is raised. With an all-time league record of 285-0-5, this Baron team does not want to go down in history as the one that ended the winning tradition.

“I have faith in our team that we won’t let it happen,” Muñoz said. The Barons struggled last season with a young, inexperienced team, but managed to keep the record intact recording 13 league victories and one draw. This year, with five seniors and many returning starters, they should be better.

“I have a good feeling that we have the players and skills to reach at least the semifinals of the CIF tournament this year,” Muñoz said. Her coach, Ronne Pietila is counting on Muñoz to play a key role on what she also believes will be a much-improved side.

“Jessica works hard, has real good skills, above average speed and great quickness,” Pietila said. “She usually played center halfback for us last year, but I think I will be using her more up front this season. She was one of our leading scorers and I’d like to see what she can do up top.”

If Muñoz can build on what for her was a very successful 2002 campaign, she may one day land the scholarship she seeks to play at either UCSD, UCLA or North Carolina. And from there, a national team call-up might be a realistic expectation.

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