The way Calaveras forward Tiffany Souza plays soccer mirrors her deep enthusiasm for the sport.
Calaveras forward Tiffany Souza (above) is the 2013 All-Area Most Valuable Player. Maggie Beck / Union Democrat
Souza, a senior, is quick, aggressive and almost always has a smile on her face as she attacks the ball and swiftly breaks through defenses on her frequent marches to the goal.
“I just love playing soccer,” Souza said. “The breakaways, whether I can make the cross in time, going up against the goalie one-on-one — it’s all a rush for me. When I’m playing, it’s like I become a whole new person.”
And Souza’s fast-and-furious style translated into eight goals this season as well as eight assists that helped the Redskins earn a share of the Mother Lode League title and advance to the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V Soccer Championships.
Souza has been a four-year varsity starter for Calaveras and last year earned a spot on the Union Democrat’s All-Area Girls’ Soccer First Team. This year, she was named All-MLL Forward of the Year by the league’s coaches.
For her outstanding play and leading by example with her positive attitude and strong work ethic, Tiffany Souza is the Union Democrat’s 2013 All-Area Girls’ Soccer Most Valuable Player.
“That’s so awesome, I don’t even have words right now to describe the feeling,” Souza said directly after being informed of her selection. “This year was amazing and I think it was the best I’ve had playing soccer. “
“The team just really clicked this season,” she added. “We had good communication, passed the ball well and Rob (Leetham, Calaveras head coach) did a really good job coaching. We worked really well together as a team and it was really exciting to earn a co-championship with Amador.”
The Redskins tied the Buffaloes with an 11-1-3 MLL record for its second title in school history. Souza was also a member of the Calaveras team that won the school’s first-ever league championship in 2011.
Calaveras head coach Rob Leetham said Souza deserves the MVP award because she gives “110 percent every minute” and the Redskins wouldn’t have accomplished all they did this season without her.
“She’s always encouraging the other girls and just the way she plays inspires them,” Leetham said. “Her example on the field and what she does in practice makes others want to do better.”
Rosie Sundell knows firsthand the threat on offense Souza can be as head coach of the rival Bret Harte Bullfrogs. She called Souza a “smart, fast player” and was “thrilled” to hear of her selection as MVP.
“Her enthusiasm for the game is always evident,” Sundell said. “She comes out there smiling and is always a leader on the field. I’ve always loved watching her play and I’m really, really happy for her.”
Souza will play this summer with San Joaquin Delta College and is looking to earn a starting role when she attends the school in the fall.
“I’m going to school there starting next semester and then eventually transferring to a four-year university where hopefully I’ll be good enough to play,” Souza said.
As good as Souza was for Calaveras, the Redskins didn’t reach the heights they did this season on her play alone. Junior forward Davis Fee along with Defenders Mercedes Ball, a senior, and Jordyn Leetham, a junior, were named to the All-Area First Team.
Ball was the 2012 All-MLL Defender of the Year and earned First Team All-League honors this season. She was sidelined the last three games due to injury but is anticipating a full recovery and plans to play at Rockford College in Illinois, according to Redskin boss Rob Leetham.
Summerville forward Nicole Schultz said, “I’ve been playing against her (Ball) for the past four years so I know she’s a really good defender and she’s always frustrated me, but I have the utmost respect for her and the way she plays.”
Leetham said Fee and his daughter Jordyn Leetham both deserved to be on the First Team for their natural talent and hard work off the field.
Fee was a constant threat on offense at forward, finishing the season with eight goals and three assists. Leetham was a major contributor on defense and added three assists.
“They put in a lot of work during the offseason to keep improving and they do it all by themselves because they just love the game,” said Rob Leetham.
Bret Harte had two players named to the All-Area First Team — juniors Diana Munoz and Lauran Redding.
“They’ve both been playing varsity since they were freshmen and now they are stronger, faster and it’s really fun to watch them become better and better players,” Sundell said. “I also think what’s really neat about them is they’re both super passionate about the game. If there is a game or practice going on, they won’t miss it. It’s always fun to be around those kind of girls as a coach.”
“I just do whatever I can to help my team and it’s an amazing honor to be in the same group as these other girls who I admire,” Munoz said.
Representing Summerville on the First Team are seniors Nicole Schultz and Larissa Barrett.
Barrett was also recently named the MLL Goalkeeper of the Year and the co-valedictorian of her class. She had never played soccer before freshman year, but found a natural aptitude guarding the net.
“You can’t be afraid,” Barrett said. “A lot of people are afraid to fall and hurt themselves, but you just have to go for it.”
Barrett had about 20 to 25 good saves in the last game against Calaveras that helped the Bears tie 2-2 and prevented the Redskins from clinching the MLL championship, said Summerville head coach Brad Schultz.
“I’d say she averaged a good 15 to 20 saves per game,” Schultz said. “I’m very proud of what Larissa did this season.”
Barrett doesn’t think she will play soccer in college but has earned more than $40,000 in academic scholarships from the University of California, Berkeley, where she will attend next semester with plans to study international relations.
Both Barrett and Nicole Schultz, daughter of Brad Schultz, were named to the All-Area First Team last year as well.
“It’s been amazing playing on varsity for my dad four years in a row and being able to stick with it,” Nicole Schultz said. “It’s been a great experience and has definitely developed me into the player I am today.”
Brad Schultz said it could be tricky at times managing a player-coach relationship with his daughter, but he’s proud of her dedication to the game and development as a leader.
“She just continues to grow as a player and has gotten stronger in everything she does,” Schultz said of Nicole. “She plays with a lot of heart. She came into this season knowing it was going to be tough and she never let it discourage her. She did everything she could to help us make the playoffs, but it just didn’t work out that way.”
All-Valley Oak League First Team selection Leah Divine and Second Team picks Ryley McLaughlin and Celia Cotrone will represent Sonora on this year’s All-Area First Team.
Sonora finished with a 4-10 record in the VOL, but earned victories over both Calaveras and Bret Harte in preseason clashes.
McLaughlin had both goals in the 2-1 win over Calaveras and Divine dished an assist. Divine also scored a goal in the 2-0 victory over Bret Harte.
“Leah has played defender in one of the hardest leagues there is for the past four years,” said Wildcats head coach Denyse Garcia McLaughlin. “It’s really a testament to her as a strong player. She’s the kind of girl everybody wants on their team. She’s hardworking and has been a great leader as a team captain for the past three years.”
McLaughlin continued, “Celia (a sophomore) is a midfielder and an up-and-coming player for us. We are going to watch her blossom even more over the next couple of years but she already has good speed and plays the ball well. She’s one of the stronger players on my team.”
McLaughlin’s daughter, Ryley McLaughlin, is a sophomore but didn’t get to play her freshman season due to injury. This year, the speedy forward scored six goals on 29 shots and made one assist.
“I’m kind of surprised I made it on the First Team because there are a lot of great players out there in both Tuolumne and Calaveras counties and to be named one of them is really cool,” Ryley McLaughlin said.
Coach McLaughlin said that even though the Wildcats were young this season, about seven or eight current juniors should return next year more experienced and mature, along with a batch of talented sophomores.
“These girls deserve recognition and are going to add a lot to this program,” she said of the All-Area honorees, “but there’s a lot of girls to watch.”