After three years as a solid but somewhat under the radar midfielder for the UC San Diego women's soccer team, it will be a whole new world for Triton senior Alexia Zatarain in 2009. With five players graduating from last season's CCAA Championship squad, the Canyon Country native now finds herself as the lone senior on this fall's roster and is being asked to assume a different role on the field. "Our weakness this year is up front and Alexia is going to step in to fill that void," says veteran head coach Brian McManus. "She's great at turning people and getting shots off. If we get her enough looks, she should get her share of goals. Her leadership will also be key. We have a young team so it's important for her and the other returners to make sure our young newcomers know what's expected of a UCSD soccer player." Zatarain, who has five career goals to go with six assists, is a political theory major at Revelle College. With the start of the 2009 season looming, she took time to talk about her career and the outlook for her senior season.
Q: Does your status as the only senior on the 2009 women's soccer roster result in any pressure?
ZATARAIN: I don't feel any outside pressure being the only senior on the team because I'm just one person on a great team with great players and great coaches, so I feel supported rather than isolated.
Q: What type of leadership do you hope to provide?
ZATARAIN: As a leader, I hope to be someone that my teammates can look up to both on the field and in the classroom, but at the same time, I want them to feel comfortable approaching me. I'm also trying to inspire them to reach the Final Four this year, and to work toward our team's potential.
Q: How is that different from what you've done in the past?
ZATARAIN: I think in the past I was taking mental notes on how to be a good teammate, player and leader, from all of the amazing girls that came before me. Every player looks to those older than they are to acquire the skills to lead a successful team, and I think that my experience has been no different.
Q: What words of wisdom would you give incoming players?
ZATARAIN: I would tell incoming players to just have fun and relax. So many times players come in scared to play at the next level, when they should really just be excited for the new set of challenges that is college soccer. Playing on this team exposes you to a great atmosphere, teaches you work ethic, and most importantly, how to be a successful player, and there is nothing scary about that.
Q: Talk about your spring/summer training. Where has your emphasis been?
ZATARAIN: My emphasis this summer was mainly on endurance. As a forward I need to be able to beat my defender to a ball, and so I wanted to focus mainly on that. Lisa [Bradley] and I focused on our endurance by using parachutes, running long distance, and of course running black widows.
Q: What aspect of your own game has improved the most during your time at UCSD?
ZATARAIN: I think my awareness on the field has improved the most. Coming in as a freshman I didn't ever want the ball because I was scared to make a mistake, but now in my final season, I'm finding that I want the ball, and I want to have an impact on the field. My awareness completely changed from just focusing on my position, to learning the best ways to positively affect the game overall.
Q: What's the best advice you've ever received from head coach Brian McManus?
ZATARAIN: The best advice I've ever received from Brian was to play simple. I never really understood the value of receiving a ball, playing it to someone else, and receiving it again: I had always just been enthralled with people showing off their skills. Brian's advice taught me how to be a better forward, and the simplicity of the game allows me to focus on my work rate off the ball.
Q: From what you've seen so far in practice, what is this team capable of in 2009?
ZATARAIN: This team has an amazing amount of talent. We have the tools to compete at the highest level and to reach our ultimate goal of a final four: we have size, strength, speed, and skill. The freshmen have come in and made an immediate impact. They play bigger than their age, and as a result, we're meshing well and we are so excited to work towards another CCAA title, as well as a regional and national title.
Q: Does UCSD's tradition of success provide a measure of advantage against opponents?
ZATARAIN: I think the advantage is mental. We all know the history of UCSD's program, and so we always want to play our best to keep that rich history alive. As a team we are so competitive, and we always want to push ourselves. Concerning our opponents, every team plays us hard because of our reputation, and so every game we play is a tough game.
Q: For you, what's most fun about playing soccer? Is there anything that scares you on the soccer field?
ZATARAIN: The most fun thing about playing soccer is the atmosphere. There's nothing like the adrenaline rush when the lights come on at RIMAC, the announcer calls your name, and the whistle blows. Playing here creates an intense environment that pushes you to play your best. The scariest thing on the soccer field is having to take a penalty kick during playoffs because at that moment in time, it's just you and the keeper, and you're terrified to let your team down.
Q: When you're not playing, do you enjoy watching soccer? If so, who are your favorite teams and players?
ZATARAIN: I love watching soccer, especially European soccer. I love watching UEFA, Euro Cup, and the Champions League. My favorite English Premier League team is Manchester United, and my favorite players are Ronaldo, David Villa, and Fernando Torres.
Q: Do you plan to continue playing soccer after this year? If so, where? If not, what do you think will take its place?
ZATARAIN: I've debated playing after college because I'll be so busy with everything else, but if I was to play it'd be for the semi-pro team in my hometown. If I don't decide to play, I don't know exactly what will take its place but I've always been an athletic person, so I'm excited to try new things that I haven't been able to do because of soccer.
Q: Do you have any regular pre-game routines? What's the craziest pre-game ritual you've seen from a UCSD soccer player?
ZATARAIN: Before a game I always have my iPod on, and I'll listen to the warmup CDs from past years. I'll also watch soccer videos on Youtube, and always take a minute or two to just breathe and think about my goals for the game. The craziest pregame ritual I've seen is probably my own obsession with having the electrical tape on my shin guards line up perfectly.
Q: You're a political theory major. Any post-graduate plans?
ZATARAIN: I graduate in December. I'll most likely be taking a year off before applying to law school, but in the meantime, I'll be working to gain professional experience for my resume and spending copious amounts of time with my family and friends. I'm also looking to get more involved in the community with all the free time I'll have.
Q: You've recently been working with Dr. Mary Walshok, Associate Vice Chancellor of UCSD Extension. What can you tell us about that?
ZATARAIN: The project I'm working on with Dr. Walshok is the formation of a group called the Coalition for Border Prosperity. The goals for the Coalition include addressing how San Diego/Mexico can address problems of efficiency in the regional economy. The Coalition is looking to include various groups in the community, from academics to local businesses from both San Diego and Tijuana. I'm serving as a research assistant and Dr. Walshok has me gathering data on subjects she finds relevant. I've gotten to meet some incredible people, and Dr. Walshok has been an amazing mentor and guide. Dr. Walshok is looking to present something at the upcoming Forum Fronteriso to be held here in October. This is a great concept because both San Diego and Tijuana share some of the same challenges, and by addressing how we can better work together to compete with other border economies (Canada-U.S., Mexico-Texas, etc.) is crucial to both countries.