Girls soccer: Windsor’s Meza playoff-ready

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Windsor's Mariah Meza wants another playoff victory before she ends her high school career.

Windsor’s Mariah Meza wants another playoff victory before she ends her high school career. (ALVIN JORNADA / The Press Democrat)

WINDSOR — Sometime around 4 or 5 p.m. today, the North Coast Section will post its boys’ and girls’ soccer playoff brackets. For some teams, like the Analy boys and Maria Carrillo girls, it’s largely a formality; they are assured of high seeds and multiple home games. Many squads are ineligible for the postseason because of losing records, and so have little interest in the brackets.

And then there are the teams in the middle, the near-.500 programs that wait with bated breath to discover where they’re headed in the first round, or whether they are playoff-bound at all — teams like the Windsor girls.

“It was kind of scary losing against Newman and tying against Rancho (last week), because I didn’t want to like lose that spot,” said senior forward Mariah Meza, Windsor’s leading scorer.

Like the many other bubble teams of the NCS, the Jaguars are left to mentally pick through the close games that will affect their standing, the ones they pulled out and, especially, the ones that got away.

“I thought that we’d finish a little bit stronger this year,” Windsor coach Mark Archambault said. “We had a stretch in the middle of the season where we won six out of seven games. But we just kind of got a little lackadaisical last week.”

The Jaguars seemed to have a firm hold on third place in the North Bay League until they tied Rancho Cotate 1-1 on Oct. 23, then lost 2-0 to Newman on Oct. 25. They had defeated the Cardinals earlier in the season, their first victory against that program since beating the Ursuline Bears back in 2006.

Despite those setbacks, the Windsor girls would seem to have solid credentials for the NCS selection committee. After a regular-season-ending loss Wednesday to Maria Carrillo, a team that hasn’t lost a game since 2011, the Jaguars are 8-8-1 overall. (They went 7-6-1 in the NBL.) Windsor drew the No. 9 seed in Division 1 each of the past two years while going 6-8-2 in 2011 and 9-9 in 2012.

The tough thing about that No. 9 draw? Survive your first game, and you’re staring at the top seed in the section in Round 2. That’s what happened to the Jaguars last year. They won 1-0 in overtime at Arcata in the opening round, then ran into undefeated Carrillo and fell 3-0.

For now, Windsor is happy to be in the hunt after what might have been considered a rebuilding year. The Jaguars lost two goalkeepers and their entire starting back line, which didn’t bode well for 2013 unless they planned on winning a lot of 8-6 games. As it turned out, Archambault got the contributions he needed to stay on course.

Versatile senior midfielder Jazzy Guillen came into her own, playing well enough to earn a full ride at St. Mary’s. Senior defenders Amanda Neidlinger and Marissa Spallino filled a couple of those gaps on the backline, and freshman Sienna Nealon was a precocious starter in the midfield.

Most important for the Jaguars, Meza continued to develop as an offensive threat.

She doesn’t get as much attention playing in Windsor as she might at Maria Carrillo or Montgomery, but Meza can score with the best of them. She went into that Carrillo game ranking fourth in the league in goals (13), fifth in assists (7) and third in overall points.

“She’s got good speed. She’s got good footwork,” said Archambault, a physical therapist who owns a practice in Santa Rosa. “But she’s just one of those players that has a knack, a feel for the goal. Even when she’s not facing the goal, she kind of knows where it is. And she’s just tenacious. She’s scored some goals this year where she’s had to get through, or by or around two defenders to be able to get to the goal.”

Speaking before a recent practice, Meza’s sweet disposition belied her on-field toughness, though perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising when you consider that soccer is a family passion. Her dogged play might have something to do with her birth order. She’s the youngest of four children. All of her older siblings — two brothers, one sister — played soccer and were happy to drag her butt all over the field. It’s a family passion.

“Three days after she was born, she was on the field with my wife,” said Mariah’s father, Junior Meza, a longtime coach who frequently brought family to his games.

Mariah Meza was almost groomed for this position from the start. She has played club soccer for years with Santa Rosa United, sometimes moving up to older classifications to face stiffer competition.

“When I was in eighth grade, I guest-played for the (SR United) U18 team, and we went to Vegas,” Meza recalled. “It was crazy. They were like, ‘What is that little girl doing out there?’”

Meza started for Windsor as a freshman, along with her sister, Gabby, and with Amanda LeCave, the 2010 All-Empire Player of the Year for girls soccer. Meza learned from them and now is a team captain herself — just as she was for eight of her club seasons.

Every year, it seems, she has added another piece to her repertoire as a player. Meza is very good in the air, as evidenced by her three header goals this year. And lately she has been working on heeling the ball back to a trailing teammate, an important skill for someone who is frequently marked or double-teamed by opponents. Archambault likes her ability to distribute the ball to open teammates in those situations.

“If I think that I don’t have the better shot, I would obviously give it up,” Meza said. “I want my teammates to feel like I’m not trying to be the ball hog or anything. I want them to feel good about themselves. I want them to feel what it is to score a goal.”

Meza wants her younger teammates to know what it feels like to win a playoff game, too. It was her shot that delivered Windsor’s first-round win a year ago. The senior is hoping for a similar result this year — and an extended run after that.

But first she has to wait for those seedings.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

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