LATHROP – Captain Yaneli Avila is revered for her quiet leadership on the soccer field.
“She lets her play speak for itself,” Lathrop coach Gabe Padilla said.
On Thursday, the soft-spoken, fourth-year varsity player made a loud announcement, turning the career center on campus into the place to be.
With friends, family, coaches and other school officials huddled around her, Avila signed a letter of intent to play at Notre Dame de Namur in Belmont next year.
Avila was showered with roses, hugs from her teammates and a glowing endorsement from athletic director Nicole Burrows.
Avila is the first soccer player, boy or girl, to sign a letter of intent to play at a four-year university and just the second athlete from Lathrop High to make that commitment.
Desiree Mendola will play softball at Northwest University in Kirkland, Wash., next spring. She signed her letter of intent in October.
“We haven’t had a lot of kids take it to the next level. The fact that it’s a female makes it even more fun for the kids,” Burrows said. “Hopefully the community sees this and they hear about it, so that it brings more kids into this school (looking) to take their talents to the next level.
“I know there is a lot of talent in this community, and Yaneli and Desiree before her, these athletes are really making Lathrop High a place where athletes want to come.”
Avila had six goals and four assists from her left midfield position last spring, but Padilla says those numbers don’t measure her true worth as a student-athlete.
“Her stat sheet won’t tell you what kind of player she is,” said Padilla, entering his third year with the program. “She’s a very crafty player, very technical. She has arguably the best footwork of any player I’ve come across while coaching. This year, being her senior year, she’s finally becoming vocal. She’s the leader of the team this year.”
That leadership quality helped her cut her own path on the recruiting trail.
Essentially, Avila recruited herself, shopping her talents and transcript to colleges via ID camps. It was at a camp in Dublin and Palo Alto that Avila caught the eye of Notre Dame de Namur associate head coach Paul McCallion.
Avila said it was important to her that she be as comfortable with her next coach as she is with her current club coach – her father, Jose Avila.
“I really liked them because of the coach and the atmosphere,” Yaneli Avila said. “That’s what was most important to me; that I was comfortable.”
Avila joins a program that competes in the Pacific West Conference and went 5-12-1 in 2014. The Argonauts’ roster features another familiar name: Madison Meyer of East Union.
Padilla had no clue Avila had ambitions of playing at the next level until she told him about Notre Dame de Namur. He applauded her determination, commitment to her play and grades, and for setting a high bar for his young program.
“This is basically all her doing,” Padilla said. “It says a lot about her. She can take charge and be a leader.”
“For me, it tells me we’re doing something right,” he later added. “We got girls that are finally upping their game and that can play at the next level. I like where the program is right now, in terms of work ethic and continuing to grow.”
Avila is willing to take that torch. Thursday’s ceremony wasn’t so much a celebration as it was a challenge.
“It means that I have to keep making them proud,” Avila said. “I want to set a good example for the next players … for those juniors that will be seniors.”