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Her Challenge: Take Your Best Shot : Manfre Asked to Provide More Offense for Mater Dei Soccer

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Tina Manfre, Mater Dei High School soccer standout, is not someone who often avoids risks.

Paddle out in winter surf twice her height? She’ll do it. Slide head first on a wet, muddy soccer field to make a play? She’ll do it. Do most anything for a laugh? She’ll do it.

“Yeah, I’ll go out and do anything if it’s challenging,” said Manfre, a senior midfielder.

Well, almost anything. According to Mater Dei Coach Marty Breen, Manfre is currently faced with a challenge that, if met, could lead the girls’ soccer team to its best season in school history.

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The challenge? Manfre herself, or more specifically, overcoming her hesitation to shoot when in scoring range.

With one of the strongest left-footed shots in the county, Manfre has been the key to the Mater Dei offense the last 2 years.

Last season, as a junior forward, she scored 34 goals on only 43 shots. This season, Manfre was moved to midfield, where Breen thought she could better use her excellent all-around skills.

The transition hasn’t been all that smooth.

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A midfielder, like a point guard in basketball, is responsible for distributing the ball to her teammates. Effective passing is a midfielder’s mainstay. The position, when played correctly, calls for defensive and offensive maneuvers as well.

It is on the offensive side of the field--"the attacking third,” Breen calls it--where Breen has asked Manfre to be more aggressive.

In 13 games, Manfre has 6 goals and 12 assists for Mater Dei (9-3-1). In a 1-0 loss to Mission Viejo Friday in the final of the Ocean View tournament, Manfre, who was suffering from strep throat all week, took 3 shots, the most she has taken in a game this season.

“There’s no question in my mind that Tina has one of the hardest shots in the game,” Breen said. “But Tina’s challenge this year is her willingness to accept that responsibility to shoot. But that’s not an easy thing to teach, especially when you have a girl like Tina, who’s such a team player.”

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Manfre started playing soccer at 4 with an American Youth Soccer Organization team in Tustin. Her father, Charles, was the Tustin chapter’s commissioner.

“She was only one of a couple of girls on that team,” said her mother, Jill. “But that didn’t bother her at all.”

At 14, Manfre was invited to play on a 19-and-under club team in Orange. Now 17, Manfre plays for the Mission Viejo Goaldiggers in addition to the high school season.

“She’s like one of the most aggressive girls I know,” said Capistrano Valley’s Susan Staab, who plays with Manfre on the Goaldiggers. “She’ll run through anything, over people. . . . We call her the Mad Dog.”

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Michelle Lodyga, Mater Dei goalkeeper, agreed: “On the field, Tina’s one of the most intense players I know.”

Last week, in a 3-2 penalty kick victory over Simi Valley, Manfre was dribbling the ball upfield when it rolled a bit too far ahead of her. As the Simi Valley fullback rushed in, Manfre lunged forward, slid and kicked the ball 20 yards upfield to a teammate.

Manfre’s aggressive nature is also evident off the field. A surfer since her freshman year, Manfre once paddled out, without a wet suit, during a winter storm in Del Mar.

“The waves were about 8 to 10 feet . . . but I didn’t know, I just went out,” Manfre said. “I tried to take off on one, but it wasn’t a pretty sight. I was scared, a lifeguard had to come and get me.”

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Did that discourage Manfre further? Hardly. She surfs almost every day during the summer, and, now equipped with a hot pink board and wet suit to match, she often tackles the winter swells as well. She is the only girl on Mater Dei’s surfing team.

“My dream is to go to Hawaii, live in a lifeguard stand and surf night and day for a year,” she said. “Either that or be a lawyer.”

Or perhaps a comedian.

To enliven a dull school lunch, Manfre once raided a storage shed, finding a dusty supply of Mater Dei sports trophies. With hardware in hand, she climbed to the roof and led cheers.

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So why is she so shy about taking shots?

“I know I have a real good shot, and everyone says I should use it more, (but) I want to keep it a secret. I want to use it as my surprise weapon,” Manfre said.

“The other thing is, I like to distribute and I like to pass. I like to let others have a chance to score.”

Breen, who has a master’s degree in sports psychology, is hesitant to accept Manfre’s reasoning.

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“To become a great athlete, you’ve just got to take risks,” Breen said. “And Tina’s got to learn to take that risk. If she’s within 30 yards and open, I want her to shoot.”


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