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Goalie Pezzulo Under Pressure to Perform : Soccer: Cal State Dominguez Hills All-American has shunned training in off-season for fast-paced lifestyle. Her coach says she might lose her starting job.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

People crowd into Chris Pezzulo’s express line--"the prison” as she calls it--at a Lomita supermarket. Although she is fighting a cold, she taps the electronic cash register and whittles through throngs of late afternoon shoppers at a rapid pace.

An All-American goalkeeper at Cal State Dominguez Hills, Pezzulo has always been in a whirlwind of activities. At times she has paid the price with her health, but now that fast-paced lifestyle might be jeopardizing her soccer career.

“I live this life of pressure all the time,” she said. “My friends tell me that I need to slow down and (that’s why) I am sick all the time because I’m pushing myself to the limit all the time.”

Her financial problems and refusal to cut back on visits to local dance clubs have left little time for training, although the start of fall soccer practice is only seven weeks away.

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“She has done nothing,” said Coach Marine Cano of the senior goalkeeper. “She isn’t training and I’m telling you this right now, it’s going to be very hard for her. I have two other goalkeepers coming in. She better get it together quick.”

Said Pezzulo: “A lot of time I’ll push myself, then I slack off. It takes Marine to get on me to get me going again.”

Pezzulo set school season records of 15 shutouts and 18 victories and was named to the All-NCAA tournament team after making a fantastic one-on-one save in the Lady Toros’ 1-0 loss to Keene State of New Hampshire in the Division II Final Four. Dominguez Hills (18-3) was the top-ranked team on the West Coast.

Pezzulo has gained 20 pounds in the off-season and has not touched a ball in a month. She does not make excuses.

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“I got lazy,” she said.

She has also been distracted by personal problems, mostly financial. After graduating from Narbonne High in 1986, she moved out of the family home in Lomita. She enrolled at El Camino College and played soccer there, paying her own tuition. But school, sports and finding a job became big burdens, and Pezzulo discovered that it was difficult to stay ahead of bill collectors.

“I was a credit card-aholic,” she said.

Mounting debts and problems with roommates forced her to swallow some pride and move back into the family home this month. It wasn’t the outcome she was looking for when she left, but at least, she says, it is the means by which she can pay the bills and get her mind back on soccer. She doesn’t plan to stay at home long.

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“I pretty much got myself out of (financial trouble) now,” she said. “I haven’t charged much for a while. I had to learn the hard way. But I think it has made me a better person.”

Pezzulo says her visits to dance clubs allow her to escape, although she says she just likes to dance, not drink or smoke.

“I have to fit in a social life,” she said. “Because if I don’t fit in that social time, I’ll go nuts. I need to have that time for my friends to go out dancing or whatever I just have to do.”

She is also a racewalker. In April, Pezzulo, 23, finished first in the under-29 category in the Los Angeles Marathon, besting her 27-year-old sister, Lisa, by 30 minutes. Lisa had won that category the previous two years.

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Pezzulo, who trains by walking the streets of Lomita and the Palos Verdes Peninsula with light weights strapped to her arms, took up racewalking three years ago after a collision with an opponent in front of the goal at El Camino broke a small bone in her back. Pezzulo missed most of her sophomore season because of the injury and walking was the only exercise she could get.

She contends that walk-training keeps her in shape to return to the soccer field. Cano, a professional goalie with the Los Angeles Heat, isn’t so sure.

“Aerobics and running and walking are fine,” he said. “But she needs to get out in goal and train. She hasn’t been doing that.”

Cano’s concern is twofold.

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“Last year we elevated the level of the program, and this year I will maintain that, as far as our schedule is concerned,” he said. “She better be ready because we will have to work extremely hard to get some results.”

Cano says three of the team’s four defenders, the players who often cleared the ball away from the net so Pezzulo would not be challenged, have completed their eligibility.

Said Pezzulo: “Mentally, I think I’m ready for this. I realize I lost my back four that did support me 200%. They saved my butt a lot of times. But I do have the ability to (stop shots) on my own, as well. I have the potential to be a great goalkeeper.”

At Narbonne, Pezzulo was the starting goalie on the boys’ varsity soccer team, but she decided to quit playing soccer after the back injury at El Camino. Pezzulo earned an associate of arts degree, took the checker’s job at the supermarket and earned enough money to take a long cruise.

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In August, two weeks before the collegiate season began, she received a call from Cano. He needed a goalie.

“He was pretty desperate, to be honest,” she said. “Someone had given him my name. I thought it would be a good opportunity to get back into the sport and also to get back into school.”

Despite missing all of the preseason two-a-day practices, Pezzulo started in goal in the Lady Toro opener Sept. 5 and shut out United States International University, 2-0. She went on to allow only two goals in her first 11 games, but after the loss to Keene State, Pezzulo lost intensity.

“I started out in the off-season matches and players were scoring on me left and right,” she said. “Right after the regular season ended we started with our Sunday league and Marine was very disappointed in me and I was disappointed in me. I think I took it very lax.”

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Pezzulo, who says she will start summer conditioning with some of her returning teammates July 6, says she wishes she could have the past sixth months back.

“I really regret going into that with a bad attitude,” she said. “I’m kicking myself for it, but unfortunately, you can’t take it back.”


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