By John Philip Wyllie
Just a few short years ago, Lisette Martinez was enjoying great success playing soccer for Hilltop High. Upon graduation she parlayed her Player of the Year, MVP and all-South Bay League honors into a successful four-year career at San Diego State. She even played briefly for the Mexican National U-19 team. Martinez graduated last May from SDSU with a degree in business administration and played last season for the San Diego Gauchos (semi-professional team). Still in her early twenties, she is by no means ready to give up on a career in soccer. We caught up with her where it all started, at Hilltop High.
“This is my fourth year of coaching here and I coach a club team as well. At the moment I am not playing on a team, so this is my team. I want to stay involved in soccer and I want to use all of my experiences to teach these girls.”
As an assistant to head coach, Gerry Forand, Martinez is a valuable asset. Having played at Hilltop, being female and being just a few years older than her players, she finds it easy to relate to them.
“We have about six returning seniors, but it is otherwise a very young team. Our top goal scorers, Veronica Mehjia and Gladys Bernal are back, but I think our strength this year will be on defense. We’ve got several Freshman including Tania Valenzuela starting in our midfield, so that is a little bit different. Tania has good speed and we sometimes use her up front. This should be a rebuilding year for us, but I am hoping that later on in the season these young players will really develop.”
Martinez is somewhat of a rarity in that she continued playing after high school. That is part of the reason she has returned.
“I am here mainly to give something back to the program. I am aware that not many girls in the South Bay go on to play at four year universities. I want to motivate them and let them know that there are options out there and they are good enough to do (what she did). If the opportunities are there I think they will take that next step,” Martinez said.
“A generation ago there was a stigma about Hispanic women excelling in sports, but I think things are developing a lot better today with so many college programs in place. A couple of years ago the WUSA brought in professional athletes from (the national teams) of Mexico and Brazil and they showed the Hispanic community what could be done. I am hoping that the league will return. It will give these girls some motivation. Right now all they have (to aspire to) are the semi-professional teams like the San Diego Sea Lions and the Gauchos, but I think that would be a good goal for them. I just want to motivate and teach them a little bit about soccer and about life skills in general.”