Last season, the Esperanza High School girls’ soccer team had a group of talented players who didn’t like each other much.
Egos and tempers flared. Grudges were nurtured. Disputes unrelated to soccer were carried onto the field, and players involved in the disputes withheld passes to each other from time to time.
It got so bad that after the season the players held three elections to determine which players’ honors would be awarded.
It was a fitting conclusion to a season that ended before anyone’s expectations. Ranked No. 1 in the Southern Section Division 4-A for most of the season, Esperanza lost to Royal, 2-1, in the quarterfinals of the divisional playoffs.
With the lessons of last year in mind, Lynn Murray, Esperanza’s only returning starter, has taken control of a young team and stepped forward to become one of the most prolific scorers in Orange County and Division 4-A.
“It just fell apart last year,” Murray said. “Eventually, we got it back together but, by that time, it was just too late and that’s a shame. We should have done it two years in a row with that team because we had a lot of talent.”
Esperanza might not have as many talented players as it did last year, Coach John Coppage said, but it’s a better team.
“Unfortunately, the majority of the team last year was playing for itself,” he said. “Lynn was one of the few who was playing for the team.
“We have nowhere near the individual talent we had last year, but they are a better team and she makes them that. She’s the catalyst to take a lot of young players and make them think they are better than they are.
“Don’t get me wrong, we have five or six really good players but last year we had 13 great players.”
Murray, a two-time first-team all-division forward, has 18 goals in 10 games for Esperanza (9-0-1). The Aztecs, ranked No. 5 in the Division 4-A preseason coaches’ poll, will play No. 1 El Toro for the championship of the Cerritos tournament at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Gahr High School.
Although she led Esperanza in scoring with 23 goals her sophomore year and was second last season (18), this is the first year Murray isn’t sharing the spotlight.
In each of her first two seasons on the varsity, Esperanza made it to the championship game of the divisional playoffs. The Aztecs have a 79-5-7 record since Murray has been on the team.
Murray, who scored six goals in a reserve role as a freshman, immediately contributed because of her speed. She also runs for the Esperanza track and field team and last spring anchored the 1,600-meter relay team to the fastest time in Orange County and fifth-fastest in the state. Currently, she is pondering whether she would like to run track in college. She has no doubts about playing soccer in college and Coppage said he is certain she will be a great Division I player.
“A lot of times you’ll find players with great speed and that’s all they have,” Coppage said. “She’s not as quick as she was as a ninth-grader, but she’s without a doubt the best forward in the county and possibly the Southern Section.”
Coppage said Murray, who also leads the team with 13 assists, has been patient with teammates who are still learning.
“She doesn’t stand around with her hands on her hips wondering why they can’t play up to her expectations,” Coppage said.
However, as the team’s captain, Murray said she has had to let loose on the field when someone isn’t playing her best.
“I tend to get really tense when I’m on the field,” Murray said. “I’m always yelling, telling people to do things.”
But she makes certain no feelings are hurt, explaining after the game that her exhortations are meant to help teammates play better.
“It never gets to the point where people stop what they’re doing and yell at each other,” she said. “And often that did happen last year.”