Playing soccer at the NCAA Division I level has been Tiana Cello's mission since joining the Pleasanton Rage at age 11.
On Wednesday, the Sierra High senior was one of 10 college-bound Rage players recognized during the early-signing period. Cello, an explosive scoring threat for both school and club, affirmed her commitment to San Jose State.
“Division I was definitely my goal, especially with my parents moving me (to another club) at a young age so that I can play at a higher level,” Cello said. “I am thankful for my parents. They pushed me and helped me reach my goal of playing Division-I soccer.”
Cello got her start with Manteca Area Soccer League and Manteca Rangers before changing affiliations. The Rage is a competitive all-girls organization and member of the Elite Clubs National League.
Cello was discovered by San Jose State coaches as an underclassmen at the ECNL Phoenix Showcase. She did not immediately commit to the Spartans, but that changed when she visited the team and campus in August 2019.
“I decided to wait and explore my options, but once I was on campus that's when I knew it was the place I wanted to go,” Cello said. She was sought after by several other schools in California.
“I love the location, I have a lot of family in the Bay Area and it's not too far from home. The coaches are amazing, and I really fit well in with the rest of the 2021 recruiting class.”
Cello would like to have a proper sendoff her senior year at Sierra. Even if the season is called off because of coronavirus concerns, she can look back at a successful three-year varsity run with the Timberwolves highlighted by three Valley Oak League championships and a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III crown. She's a three-time All-VOL first-team selection with 108 career goals and 43 assists in 84 games played. Last year, she finished as the second-leading scorer in the SJS with 44 goals and 15 assists for 103 points, according to MaxPreps.
Cello wants a chance to help Sierra and longtime coach Manuel Pires seize their first California Interscholastic Federation regional championship. She'd also like to have one final go-around with good friend Jenna Villanueva, another standout scorer who signed with Cal State East Bay on Wednesday. Sierra will mark the occasion today with an outdoor celebration on campus.
“I love Jenna so much,” Cello said. “This is a really cool thing, because we were the only two freshmen on the varsity and having her to experience this whole high school soccer thing has been amazing. She is such a good friend and it has been cool to grow up in high school together. It's sad that we are going our separate ways, but it's also exciting that we'll both get to continue playing soccer in college.”
Lauren Hanson, San Jose State's all-time winningest women's soccer coach, is hoping Cello can add some scoring punch to a squad that struggled to produce on the attacking third in 2019 — the Spartans were held to 15 goals in 20 matches while compiling a 7-9-4 overall record.
They finished 5-4-2 in the Mountain West Conference. San Jose State has claimed two Mountain West Tournament titles, one regular-season title and two NCAA postseason berths in Hanson's six years.
“Coach Lauren has really done something with that program, and her leadership, commitment and vision are what drew me to San Jose State,” Cello said. “All of the coaches are easy to talk with and get along with.”
Cello looks forward to reuniting with former teammates and rivals who compete for schools on San Jose State's schedule. Included is Lathrop High product Kassandra Ceja, who is at Fresno State. The Spartans have also faced Arizona, where Ripon High grad Tianna Sidtikun plays, in recent years along with nearby national powers Stanford and Santa Clara.
Cello is pursuing a degree in kinesiology and aspires to be a physical therapist but added she is not ruling out a pro soccer career, if the opportunity becomes available to her.