The Santa Margarita girls’ soccer team has compiled a long list of bragging rights.
From two-time Olympic gold medalist and 2005 alum Amy Rodriguez to the CIF-SS Division I championship the Eagles captured last season, the program has amassed a treasure trove of success in just a quarter century of existence.
This season has been no different, as the Eagles put themselves in prime position to win a sixth straight Trinity League title by rallying from two goals down in the second half last week to tie second-place Mater Dei in a difficult road game environment, allowing Santa Margarita to maintain its narrow lead in the standings.
“That was a pivotal match for us,” says Santa Margarita coach Chuck Morales.
Morales says this season’s varsity team stands out from the 20 others he’s coached at the school because the Eagles don’t feature any standout players, just a solid group that works and performs well together. Fellow Trinity League schools Mater Dei, JSerra and Rosary all have better individual players, Morales says, but they don’t possess the type of winning chemistry shown by the Eagles.
“This year’s team is one where they’re pretty evenly matched,” Morales says of his players. “They all have to pull together and they all have to do their part. If they’re all doing their part, we’re going to be successful.”
In addition to the Division I title last season, Santa Margarita has three other semifinal appearances since 2010. Such consistent success has enabled the program to continue attracting some of the best players in Orange County, particularly in the soccer-rich south region.
“We built up a program of excellence,” Morales says. “A platform in which players can come into our school and excel… Not a lot of high schools can say, ‘Hey, we’ve got an awesome soccer program, come over here. You’re going to do well.’“
The Eagles had won a handful of lower-division championships before Rodriguez arrived for her freshman season in 2001-02 and she led them to another Division III title her first year. Rodriguez would go on to earn Gatorade National High School Player of the Year honors during her senior year, star at USC and win gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 games. A-Rod, as Morales still calls her, has played in more than 100 international competitions.
Though the Eagles remain a popular destination for top club players, Morales cautions that it can be a humbling experience once they arrive.
“They come to Santa Margarita and realize, ‘Hey, I’m good, but there’s somebody better than me.’“ Morales says. “That’s why you have to learn to be a team player and you have to wait your turn. Do your part to help the entire program.”
This season’s team is anchored in the back by two-year starting goalkeeper Christina Kosmala, and is especially solid up the middle of the field with players like Machaela George, Maggie Ghotbi, Jordan Christensen, Claire Calcaterra and Alexis Wolivar.
Ghotbi scored what turned out to be the winning goal in last season’s Division I championship game against Edison, hitting the back of the net just under four minutes into the game.
Surprisingly, it was the Eagles first finals appearance since 2002, Rodriguez’s freshman year. Morales doesn’t want to wait another 12 years for the next appearance.
The way the Eagles are playing, he shouldn’t have to.