Heart of a warrior

A championship-caliber team needs an enforcer — a strong personality and physical presence that keeps teammates in line and opponents in fear.

For the decorated Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy soccer team, that role belongs to Tera Trujillo.

"She's probably as tough and as competitive a kid as we've ever had," Sacred Heart co-Coach Frank Pace says of the junior midfielder/defender. "She's got what we call a warrior mentality. She is a warrior. …She defines fun as measuring your best against the other team's best."

Over last year's historic run and the even more glorious campaign that the Tologs are a game away from bringing to completion, Trujillo has always been ready to role up her sleeves and set the tone when push came to shove in the team's biggest signature wins.

"It really sends the [other team's] forwards a message that you can't really get by us, you can't mess with us because we'll easily push you off the ball," Tologs senior defender Natalie Zeenni says.

Sacred Heart has a plethora of talented goal scorers and offensive facilitators sprinkled among its deep roster. But the victories that have defined Sacred Heart's burgeoning dynasty — from the weekly battles in the Mission League, to one-goal playoff wins over Esperanza and San Clemente in the 2011 CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs, to the 2-1 win over Francis Parker for the program's first-ever CIF title last season — almost always come down to who can best stop the other team.

In a nutshell, that's why Trujillo thrives on being a stopper in the clutch.

"It's more my natural position because I never want to let anybody down and I always want to defend," says Trujillo, who plays defender on her club and youth national teams, and brings a decidedly defensive mindset to her starting midfielder spot on the Tologs. "I like to be more defensive than offensive.

"It's also really fun because you get to get in people's heads and you get to make big things happen, even though it's not scoring, but it's part of the team."

Sacred Heart (23-1-1), which captured the Mission League and CIF Southern Section Division I titles this year, will defend its CIF Southern California Division III Regional crown at 10:30 a.m. today against Oaks Christian at Warren High in Downey.

There's a strong possibility that Trujillo will once again shift to the backline, as she has done for the last three matches since starting defender Kayla Mills suffered a quadriceps injury early in the team's 1-0 win over San Clemente in the section title game on March 4.

"When Kayla got injured in the finals, she was able to transfer from center mid to defense really easily and she really saved us," Zeenni says. "She's really, really physical and she can pretty much win anything in the air, and, as a center back, that's really important."

In last season's regional title game, Trujillo was the backbone of a defensive effort that keyed a come-from-behind win over Francis Parker, a big, physical team that took it to the Tologs early.

Not one to back down from a challenge, Trujillo went toe-to-toe with Lancers bruiser Zuri Walker, and more than held her own, a key to the second-half turnaround.

"She's a kid that sets the tone," Pace says. "If a team wants to come out and play physical, as Frances Parker did last year, she can play physical with them toe-to-toe without being a thug. She can match up physically with almost anybody and still play very technically sound soccer and play with composure."

Indeed, Trujillo's approach to engaging opponents is more cerebral than visceral, allowing her to play with a controlled intensity.

"I feel like it's more mental because I feel like I am pretty physical, as it is, so it's more mental," says Trujillo, who's committed to the University of New Mexico. "I was brought up to be mentally tough."

That toughness, combined with her deeply competitive nature, make Trujillo a perfect storm of method and motivation.

"I'm so competitive," Trujillo says. "I get competitive over like a little ping-pong game. I am the most competitive person, I was born that way. I strive to be the best."

Just as her play commands the respect of opponents, Trujillo's personality earns the respect and admiration of her teammates. Bringing her game speed and intensity to the practice field every day, Trujillo makes sure that there's never a lax moment.

"She keeps everybody on their toes," senior forward Alyssa Conti says. "She expects the best out of everybody. She gives us the best and we give her the best in return. She's a great leader on our team."

Says Trujillo: "I expect everyone to be on their 'A' game when they come out, just like I expect that from myself. Everybody should expect 110% every time they put on their cleats. It's also love for the game and the passion to play the sport, it's just expected."

Described by other players as one who wears her heart on her sleeve, Trujillo brings a no-nonsense approach, but finds time to have fun on the field, as well, and knows where to draw the line between being a taskmaster and a teammate.

"She's a very tough player, but she's a very sweet girl off the field, which is surprising to a lot of people to hear because of how tough she is on the field," Conti says. "But she separates her game from her life and she's an amazing soccer player and an amazing teammate also."

It's been an amazing season all around for the Tologs, who have a chance to end the year having won every prize within their sights and with the No. 1 ranking in the nation, according to ESPN Rise.

The "triple crown" of league, section and regional titles is a lofty ideal that the team hasn't been afraid to speak freely of as a goal from the beginning of the season, not out of arrogance, but out of confidence and in recognition of the rare opportunity presented to this rare collection of talent.

It's not hard to tell from whom the Tologs take their cue in that regard.

"Ever since we came out for this season of high school, we knew we were going to win," Trujillo says. "We had it in our heads, we all have the drive and determination to do it, so we just went after it. I'm pretty sure we will win [today], too."

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World