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APRIL 27, 2021


Midway through the Moore League girls’ soccer season, two-time defending league champion Millikan was struggling. Head coach Tino Nunez’s squad had a lopsided loss to Wilson and a draw with Poly to show for their troubles, and the Rams were floundering.

“We weren’t playing as a team,” said Nunez. “We preach team, but we weren’t a team.”

After canceling a nonleague game to hold bonding exercises and focus on the off-field camaraderie, the Rams came out firing on all cylinders in the second half of league play. Now, after Tuesday night’s 2-1 win over Wilson, the Rams are on the cusp of history.

Wins over Lakewood, Cabrillo, and Jordan–all of whom Millikan beat easily in the first round–would give MIllikan a Moore League three-peat for the first time in the history of its girls’ soccer program. Prior to the current streak of titles, the Rams had only won three league titles in history dating back to 1976.


Millikan High won its third successive Moore League girls soccer championship, rallying from the first-half deficit for a 2-1 home triumph Thursday evening over first-place Wilson.

It’s not official — the Rams (6-3-2 overall, 5-1-1 Moore) remain in third place and sit five points behind first-place Wilson (7-2-0, 7-2-0) and three in back of Poly — but it seems a done deal. Victories in their final three regular-season matches, on Thursday at Jordan and next week at home against Cabrillo and Lakewood, will leave them atop the standings, and none of the three games are expected to be competitive.

“Not yet, not yet,” Millikan head coach Tino Nuñez said when asked if he considered his team the champion. “I’m not one that likes to celebrate early. I told the girls we’ll celebrate tonight’s win, enjoy this one until midnight, and then we celebrate big taking care of business on our senior night (on May 6). I don’t want to (jinx it).

“I’m hoping we can take care of business and then celebrate another title. Obviously, tonight was a huge step towards that.”


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APRIL 21, 2021


The Millikan girls’ soccer team wasn’t happy with how they played in their first Moore League contest against Long Beach Poly. The two-time reigning league champs fell behind in that one and had to rely on two late goals to salvage a tie. Head coach Tino Nunez wanted them attacking from the beginning in their rematch against the Jackrabbits Tuesday, and that’s exactly what the Rams did in a 4-0 win that keeps the Moore League title race wide open.

“We talked about how we were flat and reacting, and I thought our energy from the start today was kind of that business mentality,” said Nunez. “Our girls responded, credit to them.”

Nunez told his team after the game that it was clear they’d wanted it more than Poly. The Rams’ gritty effort was personified by junior Danielle Paulson, who took an elbow to the nose early and came off the field with blood running down her face. Paulson quickly stopped the bleeding with some cotton, switched out of her bloodied undershirt and jersey into a fresh uniform, and got back into the game.

“Obviously we know she’s going to sacrifice her body, and once she did, it just let the girls know that they were ready, no matter what was going to happen,” said Nunez.

The offensive firepower was supplied early by senior Courtney Cummings, who scored in the third and ninth minutes to give the Rams an imposing lead, one they’d add to with a score from Hannah Marshall in the 40th minute and then a cherry on top by Alyssa Reyes late in the game.

“We knew that if we did what we did last time we’d lose,” said Cummings, a Brown commit. “So we wanted to have energy right away.”

Nunez praised his team’s toughness and grit in the win, but the path doesn’t get any easier for the Rams, who will play Wilson next week. Poly will face Wilson in two weeks in a final meeting of the city’s top three teams.

LONG BEACH — Courtney Cummings scored two superb goals in the first 10 minutes Tuesday evening and Millikan’s defense conceded little of consequence as the Moore League girls soccer race tightened with the Rams’ stunning 4-0 romp over visiting Long Beach Poly.

Hannah Marshall added another goal just before halftime and Alyssa Reyes netted the fourth a little more than midway through the second half as Millikan (5-3-2 overal, 4-1-1 Moore League) knocked the Jackrabbits (5-1-1, 5-1-1) off the top of the standings with a one-sided victory in which it left another four goals, perhaps five, on the field.

It was the best performance this season by the Rams, who picked up just one point in games against the other two titles contenders in the first round of league play.

“I would say so,” head coach Tino Nuñez said. “Especially the first half. The first couple of games we were reacting to things and coming from behind and trying to figure things out, and that (3-0 loss on March 25 at) Wilson exposed a lot of the thins that we needed to work on as a team and (how we needed) to come together. And over the last weeks, things have come together.”


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FEBRUARY 4, 2020


team photo millikan girls soccer

Millikan girls’ soccer finished off its second consecutive Moore League championship with an 11-0 win over Compton on Tuesday at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

“This is special that the program,” coach Tino Nunez said. “Not only the girls from last year and this year. It’s for the girls that have been part of the program that understand the work we’ve put in. They’re the ones that’ve laid the foundation.”

The Rams (15-5-1, 10-1-1) defended an early lead in the league standings after beating Long Beach Poly and Wilson at home in December.

This is the first back-to-back girls’ soccer league titles for Millikan since 1985-86.

“This group is unfazed by things,” Nunez said. “The seniors like Samy (Sierra) and Azalia (Salazar) who have been there and done it before, They understand what needs to be done. Then you have the twins (Natalie and Danielle Paulson) who come in and put their head down, put their bodies on the line and it’s all about getting the job done.”

LONG BEACH — Millikan is, officially now, the Moore League girls soccer champion.

The Rams (14-6-2 overall, 10-1-1 Moore) swept an unprecedented doubleheader with Compton on Tuesday afternoon — well, sort of — to finish a point ahead of Wilson (14-4-1, 10-2-0), which started the day on top of the standings but without any real hope of winning the title.

The Moore League race was strictly a three-team affair, with the Bruins, Millikan and third-place Poly (14-4-2, 9-2-1) sweeping the other four teams and only fourth-place Lakewood (6-10-0, 5-6-0), which will join the top three in the CIF Southern Section playoffs, playing tight games against any of them.

The championship was determined by the six games among the three schools. Every series was a split, with both teams winning once, except Millikan’s with Poly; the Rams won at home and then scored the first goal in a 1-1 tie at Poly, the Jan. 14 game that made the difference.

Millikan for all intents won the title when Poly rallied for a stoppage-time victory at Wilson on Thursday night. The Bruins would have been champions with a victory, and a draw would have meant co-titlists.

The Rams won it for real with two wins Tuesday over Compton (0-11-0, 0-11-0) at Veterans Stadium — one of them a makeup of a Tarbabes home game from Jan. 9 — but played just once. Sammy Sierra scored a hat trick and Azalia Salazar scored a goal and assisted three more in the first game — an 11-0 victory — and Compton forfeited the second.

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JANUARY 14, 2020


Poly???s Isabella Yakel and Millikan???s Samy Sierra go after the ball as the Jackrabbits take on the Rams in Long Beach, CA, on Tuesday, January 14, 2020. (Photo by Tracey Roman, Contributing Photographer)

Clear chances? You can talk about the shots they had, based off of throw-ins, based off of free kicks, which they’re very dangerous off of,” Rams head coach Tino Nuñez said. “I mean, in soccer those are chances, but as far as run of play or they’re they better soccer-playing team on turf? I like to think different. I have confidence in my group that they can play on any type of surface, and you can note it, and you can see when they start connecting and look for each other and keep the ball on the ground, and when we get running at (foes), we can be dangerous, too.

LONG BEACH — Millikan handled Long Beach Poly on its pockmarked grass-and-dirt field in the Moore League opener a little more than a month ago, the surface forcing the Jackrabbits to trade in their possession game for something more direct.

The Rams (10-5-1 overall, 5-0-1 Moore), No. 2 in the Press-Telegram Top 10, also prefer to keep the ball on the ground, and they showed why in Tuesday evening’s rematch at No. 4 Poly (9-4-2, 4-2-1), playing some gorgeous soccer at times and coming up big defensively in a 1-1 draw that keeps them on target for a second straight league title.

Azalia Salazar scored Millikan’s goal, poking home the rebound after goalkeeper Kira Ybarra knocked down her point-blank shot from Alyssa Reyes’ feed two minutes into the second half. The Jackrabbits equalized 11 minutes later, with Aniah Cutler heading home Morgan King’s corner kick, but they couldn’t take advantage of their other opportunities, most from King’s set pieces or defender Sarah Amara’s monster throw-ins.

Millikan had fewer shots (14-8) and fewer true chances (12-4), but they were good with the ball and, led by sophomore twins Danielle and Natalie Paulson in central defense and holding midfielder extraordinaire Josie England, solid defensively, enough so to get the point.

“Clear chances? You can talk about the shots they had, based off of throw-ins, based off of free kicks, which they’re very dangerous off of,” Rams head coach Tino Nuñez said. “I mean, in soccer those are chances, but as far as run of play or they’re they better soccer-playing team on turf? I like to think different. I have confidence in my group that they can play on any type of surface, and you can note it, and you can see when they start connecting and look for each other and keep the ball on the ground, and when we get running at (foes), we can be dangerous, too.

“That said, I’ll take the 1-1, because it’s away, because it’s a point, because it doesn’t allow (Poly) to get three. So keeps them kind of where they’re at, so that’s huge. It’s a huge result as far as us staying on pace and on track.”

The Rams slipped to second in the league, two points behind No. 3 Wilson (10-3-1, 6-1-0), which emptied its bench early in a 2-0 win at Cabrillo (3-10-0, 1-6-0) built on Kristin Berry’s penalty kick and Kate Rael’s finish from freshman Reese Doherty’s assist. But for all intents, they’re still on top. They’ve got a makeup game with Compton to play — it’s not been rescheduled yet — and that’s a guaranteed three points.

Poly is five points in back of Wilson and three behind Millikan and little opportunity to make up the difference. It’s extremely unlikely these three drop points against any other side — Lakewood (4-7-0, 3-3-0), an 8-0 winner over Jordan, has a remote shot — and the Jackrabbits have just one more game against the leaders, Jan. 30 at Wilson.

Millikan plays at Wilson next Tuesday with the league title probably on the line.

“This kind of locks us into that space, that second spot (at best),” Poly head coach Anthony Perez said. “Just a little too late. The whole season’s kind of gone that way for us this year.

“The good thing is we didn’t take an ‘L.’ I’m happy about that, but just wasn’t quite enough. As much as I want to win, I can’t be mad, because our effort was there. But that kind of effort, it needs to be consistent with these girls, and that’s where I think this year we’re kind of up and down a little bit.”

Poly certainly had opportunities to take command. King, marvelous at the helm of the attack, twice hit the crossbar — on a free kick from 34 yards in the 24th minute and from just outside the box from the debris of an Amara throw-in in the 35th — and Millikan goalkeeper Alicia Calderon did well to deny Cutler and Isabella Yakel just before halftime.

Cutler, slowed by a knee pain that Perez thinks is an overuse issue, struggled to have her usual impact, and the coach said he’d likely shut her down for at least a week, possibly until the Wilson showdown in two weeks.

Reyes, the most skillful player on the field, was dangerous nearly every time she got on the ball, using her speed and deception to beat defenders and connect with, especially, Salazar, Alyssa Moran, Sammy Sierra and freshman Sydney Trump in the attacking third.

The final pass was often absent, but not on the goal. Reyes took the ball up the right flank off of a throw-in, squared off with Amara, then cut past her with a quick move to the left and found Salazar for the finish.

“Not too many people want her running at them,” Nuñez said. “She creates the goal, she’s giving them trouble every single time, and when she picks the ball up and starts running at you, I mean, that’s a scary look.”

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DECEMBER 12, 2019


alyssa reyes millikan HS

A pair goals from long distance carried Millikan past Wilson 2-0 at home on Thursday night and pushed the Rams to the top of the Moore League standings.

Wilson (2-1, 2-1) dominated possession and outshot Millikan 12-4 with 10 shots on goal, but the Rams defense limited the Bruins to half chances and sophomore goalkeeper Alicia Calderon made the 10 saves for the clean sheet.

Millikan (2-1, 2-0) took the lead in the 15th minute when junior Alyssa Reyes won the ball at midfield and went down the flank before lofting a shot from about 25 yards out into the far side netting. Sophomore Natalie Paulson doubled the lead in the 45th minute with another lob shot from outside the 18-yard box.

“Those moments were created off our counter attack and not having the possession we would’ve liked,” Millikan coach Tino Nunez said. “Credit to Wilson, they do a good job putting pressure on you.”

The Rams defense of junior right back Gretchen Backer, junior center back Lauren Van Every and sophomore center back Danielle Paulson, senior left back Caitlin Namoc and sophomore defensive midfielder Josie English played phenomenal team defense in front of Calderon to keep the Bruins away from goal.

“Defensively I’m really proud of this group,” Nunez said. “They really fight and sacrifice their bodies. That was a big question mark coming into the season and they’re doing a great job.”

Millikan beat Long Beach Poly 2-1 last week when it survived a second half barrage from the Jackrabbits before Reyes scored a late game winner.

“That’s two league favorites with a lot a talent and returning players, so to come out and get results early on is great,” Nunez said. “It sets you up and you’re on pace to win.”

LONG BEACH — One of the chief elements in Millikan’s bid to repeat as Moore League girls soccer champions is to make the most of its home-field advantage, the stiffest in the competition, against fellow giants Wilson and Long Beach Poly.

Check that one off the list. Two games into the campaign, the Rams (2-1-0, 2-0-0 Moore) have beaten both rivals on their lumpy field, following last week’s win over Poly with a 2-0 triumph Thursday over a Wilson side that built huge territorial and statistical advantages but couldn’t find the net.

Alyssa Reyes scored a brilliant goal in the 13th minute and Natalie Paulson added another fine strike, also on a far-post lob, five minutes into the second half, and Millikan’s defense did a splendid job limiting the Bruins’ looks at goal while conceding 23 shots.

Sophomore goalkeeper Alicia Calderon, pressed into action because of long-term injuries to Isabella Meyer and Savanna Alba — the Rams’ returning all-league netminders — showed improvement from the Poly victory, making 11 saves, including big stops on three shots by Kristin Berry and a sharp strike by Cade Mendoza in the second half.

The victory gave the Rams, who extended their league unbeaten streak to 20 games, command in a race that will be determined in the six games among the big three.

“It’s great, and it sets us up nicely,” said Millikan head coach Tino Nuñez, whose team is ranked fifth by the Press-Telegram. “There’s a lot of work ahead, and we’ve got to face them again, so there’s a lot to learn from these games. We have to know we don’t have it all figured out just because we got the result.”

No. 2 Wilson (2-1-0, 2-1-0) spent much of the match in Rams territory, especially after the break, when head coach Dalton Kaufman switched from a 4-3-3 alignment to a 3-4-3, flooding the midfield and applying pressure that led to 17 shots, to just three for the Rams.

Millikan suffered in possession without midfield general Sammy Sierra, who was on a college visit, and created only so much. It was enough.

Reyes, whose speed on the right flank tormented Wilson in the first half, won a ball on the flank, surged past a defender, saw that Bruins goalkeeper Daniella Uchio was off her line, and blasted a soaring ball from 30 yards that dropped into the far corner of the net.

Paulson’s goal, in the 45th minute, was a looping shot from the left corner of the box to the far post after Azalia Salazar won a loose ball on the flank.

“The good thing about hitting the ball over the top,” Nuñez said, “is if you hit it back post, you never know what the keeper’s seeing.”

Said Kaufman: “Those balls are keepers’ nightmares, because they kind of float up, and they’re tough to read, and the ball’s wet, so it’s kind of knuckling, too.”

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DECEMBER 5, 2019


sunha park millikan hs soccer

In past years, before the Long Beach Unified School District upgraded most of the city’s high school soccer fields to artificial turf, Moore League soccer matches were often muddy, messy grudge matches. Since the passage of the bond that allowed the upgrades, most soccer games are now technical and beautiful, with ball movement and precise passing.

Thursday’s league opener between reigning league champion Millikan and Long Beach Poly was an old-school affair, played on an old-school grass field in old-school mud. The Rams came up with the last-minute magic to start their title defense on a positive note, defeating the Jackrabbits 2-1.

“I tried to take a little pressure off our team,” said Millikan coach Tino Nunez, whose team is seeking back-to-back league titles for the first time since 1985-86. “I told them, ‘You aren’t winning or losing the Moore League title today.’ But what better way to start than with a win over a team like that, who you know is going to be in it at the end.”

‘At the end’ was a phrase Rams fans enjoyed, since that’s when their team was at its best. Millikan outshot Poly 9-3 in the first half, but didn’t have too much bite on their chances. The host Rams took a lead in the 52nd minute after sophomore Danielle Paulson was taken down in the box to earn a penalty kick, then Azalia Salazar calmly buried the PK.

Poly equalized just seven minutes later after a foul and a yellow card gave the Jackrabbits a free kick just outside the Rams box. Senior Morgan King was perfect on the attempt, dropping it in just under the crossbar to tie the game 1-1.

The Jackrabbits dominated the second half in terms of scoring opportunities, earning dangerous free kicks and four corners, resulting in 10 shots to the Rams’ four. But Poly never broke through, and the Rams would in the final minute of the game.

Junior Alyssa Reyes had a few tries in the first half, and was confident she’d find herself with the ball again when it counted.

“Just my mentality was, I knew I had to put one away,” said Reyes. “I just told myself to keep going, I had to do it for my team.”

Sure enough, after a mis-clear by the Poly defense, the ball was at her feet, and she buried the game-winner.

“It was a little bit of a relief,” said Nunez. “We were up against the ropes. I thought we did a great job of surviving their size and strength, and we have a couple of dangerous players up front who made a difference.”

Both coaches agreed that the muddy field made a big difference in the game, although they obviously had different opinions of whether that was a good thing or not.

“This field benefits us,” said Nunez. “When you can slow down a team like that, where there’s really athletic players, that helps us, of course.”

Poly coach Anthony Perez was blunt in his assessment.

“I think we got beat by a field,” he said. “I told the girls before the game, we can’t play the way we play on this field. If we play this on a turf field it’s a totally different game. It helped them, no doubt.”

The Jackrabbits have lost four of their last five games against Millikan, and drawn the other.

LONG BEACH — Millikan took a quick first step in the Moore League girls soccer race Thursday night, pulling out a 2-1 victory over visiting Long Beach Poly on Alyssa Reyes’ 80th-minute strike, a huge result in what’s expected to again be a three-team fight with Wilson for the title.

Neither team was at full strength, due to club commitments, and both will need a few more weeks to figure out what they’re about — the Rams perhaps more so — as the season again begins with games that matter, residue of CIF’s move last year to begin play and hold championships in all sports a few weeks earlier than had long been the custom.

The Jackrabbits, coming off runs to CIF Southern Section and Southern California Regional semifinal appearances last winter, were playing their opener.

Millikan (1-1-0 overall), after winning its first Moore League title since 1991, got in a game last week with Huntington Beach — a 1-0 loss — after playing a series of scrimmages without some of its top players.

“I told the girls: Tonight we’re not going to win or lose Moore League. But it would be a great way to start league,” Rams head coach Tino Nuñez said. “Because every point counts — as we know, as last year we won it by one point — and when you’re able to take a point away, especially from a Poly or a Wilson, and add them for yourself, that’s always a big plus.”

Millikan was the better team for the first 25 minutes or so, scored fortunate goals, and did well absorbing heavy Poly pressure in the second half to prevail. Its familiarity with the school’s notoriously pockmarked field was an advantage.

“I think the field played against us,” said Poly head coach Anthony Lopez, who returns the bulk of a talented side that is considered the Moore League favorite. “It makes for a better team to lose.”

Poly’s the better team?

“Oh, yeah, 100 percent,” he said. “I know it. And no offense to them, it’s just that’s what it is. On paper, we’re stronger than everybody. On a flat field on (artificial) turf, somewhere we could pass the ball, that’s a different-story game.”

The Rams cut off passing lanes and built into the attacking third through Reyes and fellow midfielder Sammy Sierra and winger Sunha Park early in the game but struggled to create clear-cut chances. Poly offered little until the second half, when Lopez switched to a more direct “kickball” style of play.

With Morgan King running things in midfield and Aniah Cutler causing havoc up top, the Jackrabbits were the more dangerous side but went behind on Azalia Salazar’s 52nd-minute penalty kick, after Chloe Fuson fouled Danielle Paulson after a Millikan corner kick.

Poly equalized seven minutes later, with King lofting a 26-yard free kick over goalkeeper Alicia Calderon, and nearly went ahead five minutes later on another King free kick. Calderon got a piece of her shot, but the ball got beyond her, and Natalie Paulson cleared it off the goal line.

Reyes slotted home the winner inside the box after Hannah Marshall picked up an errant goal kick and brought the ball up the left flank, and a Poly defender misplayed her cross into the box.

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JANUARY 7, 2020

Azalia Salazar Was Destined To Play Millikan Soccer

Azalia Salazar

This has been an extremely successful winter season at Millikan High because a bunch of first-year captains have quickly stepped up to lead by example.

One of those Rams captains is senior Azalia Salazar, who has helped her girls’ soccer team retake its position atop the Moore League standings. However, Salazar was close to never being a Millikan soccer player.

“Soccer is the only sport I’ve really ever known,” Salazar said. “But for lack of a better word, I sucked when I was younger.”

Salazar is the oldest of three soccer playing daughters born in Long Beach, and their dad, Armando Salazar, has been a club coach for almost their entire lives. The small but naturally skilled Azalia quickly progressed though the AYSO teams before taking the jump to an elite club level at the age of 9.

That’s when she got a rude awakening that changed her life forever.

“My parents and I had a sit-down conversation when I was 11 or 12 years old and I knew it wasn’t going to be good,” Salazar said. “I just came from an AYSO team where I was pretty much the best on the team, coming up to a club team where there are girls who are better than me. A lot better. I couldn’t keep up. I realized I couldn’t keep up.”

Salazar recalled that she wasn’t sure how to react when her parents asked if she wanted to keep playing soccer, or find a new extracurricular activity.

“I decided and told them ‘I want to see how far I can go,'” she said. “I want to do everything in my power to get myself above or close to level these other girls are at’.”

The Salazars decided that she would increase her training to an extra day of strength and conditioning, and an extra day of ball skills training on top of the two regular days of club training. That’s more than half of the week on the soccer field.

“At the end of three months I was back to being one of the best and I finally felt like I was where I wanted and needed to be,” Salazar said. “I felt like I was thriving.”

The confident Salazar kept getting called up to new and better teams for top clubs like Strikers and Slammers. She even traveled internationally with one team and visited the Manchester United facility in England.

A dedicated soccer training program at KILFIT Athletics Gym in Bell Gardens also helped Salazar gain the strength needed to be an effective forward despite her small stature.

“I definitely don’t wish I was a bigger player,” Salazar said. “I believe the biggest things come in the smallest packages. I mean, look at Messi. He’s a perfect example of a small player with a big field presence. That’s what I’ve always wanted to be.”

Salazar said watching a lot of soccer with her dad like the USA women’s national team, the Mexican national team and the Premier League helped increase her soccer IQ.

“It’s just always been about athleticism,” Salazar said of improving her natural skills. “Technically working on my weaker foot, shielding the ball away from the defender, learning to navigate through tougher situations… Because at that time I was moving into higher levels where you don’t have as much time on the ball. Learning how to get the ball quickly and find and release quickly, that’s what I was working on.”

Her rapid improvement had Salazar tabbed as one of the top prospects coming to the Moore League four years ago. However, a clerical paperwork error landed Salazar at Lakewood High instead of her desired Millikan destination. Instead of pouting and just continuing to play club soccer, Salazar won a spot on the Lancers varsity squad as a freshman.

When that year ended, Salazar still wanted to go to Millikan.

“I liked (Lakewood) but I just always heard about Millikan being one of the best in the Moore League and I wanted to be a part of that and be a part of that name,” Salazar said. “And my dad and (Millikan coach Tino Nunez) have been coaching against each other in club for years, so I’m familiar with him.”

Nunez and Millikan have been familiar with winning in the last two years after grabbing a historic league title last season. The Rams started this season last month with a pair of home wins over top challengers Long Beach Poly and Wilson. Salazar scored a goal and assisted on the game winners of both contests. She now has a team-high six assists to go with five goals in nine games played.

“She’s different,” Nunez said. “She is dynamic and you can tell she’s been trained and wired to see things that are beyond the basics. I want creative players like that, especially in the final third, to help create chances.”

Salazar said she wants to continue playing soccer at the next level, but is more interested in preparing to study in the medical field.

“I just want to be in the business of helping people,” Salazar said.

It’s clear now that the sliding doors of local soccer have put Salazar in a perfect position to do exactly that for Millikan.

DECEMBER 26, 2019

French: Millikan girls soccer team relishes the dark-horse role

Millikan High's Josie English (#20), left, and Wilson High's Kristin Berry (#15) chase the ball at the Rams' Long Beach, Calif. campus stadium Dec. 12, 2019  (Leo Jarzomb, Contributing Photographer)

FOUNTAIN VALLEY — Millikan last winter captured its first Moore League girls soccer title in 27 years, advanced for the first time in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs, then took JSerra — en route to its third straight title — to overtime before exiting in the second round.

The buzz heading into this season was all about Poly and Wilson, the other Moore League contenders, and all the talent each was bringing back. Millikan had holes to fill, none greater than that vacated by center back Emily Barham, who set the tone for everything the Rams accomplished. They would not be the team to beat this time.

Their response? Bring it on. The Rams (6-3-0) relish the dark-horse role, one that’s been a snug fit all along, and are doing all the things dark horses must for success: work hard, play with grit, be on top of things defensively. They’re 4-0-0 in Moore play, with home victories over both of the favorites, and head into this weekend’s North Orange County Classic coming off a semifinal run in the Best in the West tournament’s top division.

“I think we do get a little overlooked, just because we’re, like, the underdogs …,” sophomore Josie English, the Rams’ holding midfielder, said after Millikan’s loss to titlist Garden Grove Pacifica in the Best in the West ABCD semifinals. “(Playing with grit is) why we win. Everyone sacrifices their bodies and everyone’s working together to win, and it’s what’s inside that matters, not, maybe, all the technical things.”

Wilson and Poly have more talent and depth and are probably capable of doing greater damage come playoff time, the Jackrabbits more so because they’re in Division 2.

That’s fine, but overlook the Rams at your peril. Head coach Tino Nuñez calls this year’s group the most “dynamic” he’s guided, and if there’s not a pure finisher, there’s scads of skill among, especially, winger Sunha Park and attacking midfielders Sammy Sierra, Azalia Salazar and Alyssa Reyes. The attack is a work in progress, and pushing Sierra higher — in deference to her poise in tough situations — might be the key to making it click.

“We’re trying to find that (connection up front),” said Nuñez, an All-CIF forward with Millikan’s 2001 sectional champions who played in Major League Soccer. “I think that comes with winning that first ball and definitely that second ball that allows you to establish some kind of rhythm. And just getting our midfielders on the same page.

“They’re all dynamic, they’re all good, but it’s, like, you guys have got to click and keep looking for each other. … We’ve shown signs of it every game, but it’s not enough. (At times it’s) exactly what I imagined, and then it kind of goes away.”

Sierra, he said, is “different.” More composed on the ball, greater vision, a veteran of the midfield battles and an attacker who “always finds herself in the right place at the right time.”

Defense was the greater concern coming into the season. The backline is almost entirely new and all-league goalkeepers Savanna Alba and Isabella Meyer are sidelined by injuries with no certainty of return. Sophomore Alicia Calderon is the unexpected No. 1, and her adjustment has had the kinds of ups and downs typical in such a situation.

What’s in front of her has worked, especially up the spine. Yin-yang center backs Danielle Paulson and Lauren Van Every — the first quiet and dynamic, the second a vocal organizer — have been tremendous, a huge part of the reason the Rams have surrendered just five goals, three of them in the third-place loss Saturday to Newport Harbor, all on penalty kicks.

The fulcrum around which all this revolves is English. That’s logical — the No. 6 position, holding midfielder, is the most important spot on the field. Technically gifted, massive IQ, a ball-winner who can start the transition and keep the ball moving. She’s just 5-foot-3 but plays much bigger.

“Josie’s heart,” Nuñez describes her. “She’s one of the smallest girls, and if the smallest girl is willing to throw her body around and sacrifice, then everybody else better be doing the same thing. She’s a great player. She sees the game, wants to play good soccer, so technical.”

Nuñez’s plan last year was for English to develop on the JV roster, but injuries and such got her into the varsity lineup.

“She filled in one game,” he said, “and from there it was like, all right, she’s our holding midfielder. I don’t think anyone’s moving her from there anytime soon.”

Millikan is using the winter-tournament season to mature and strengthen its connections against first-level competition, such as Upland, its opening foe at the North Orange County Classic. It’s also a chance to get used to playing on artificial turf, a surface that complements its game far better than the Rams’ football stadium’s pockmarked dirt and grass. That field is done — reconstruction of the facility begins in another week or so — and Veterans Stadium will be their home the rest of the season.

“These games are super-important to get our rhythm on turf fields and practice for these really important league games that will determine our season,” Sierra said. “That’s really important. It’s going well so far.”

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JANUARY 31, 2019



None of the players on the Millikan girls’ soccer team were alive the last time the Rams won the Moore League championship, a shared title in 1991. In fact, the last time they won the league title by themselves, their head coach was just a baby–it was 1985.

Thanks to a 1-1 draw with Long Beach Poly on Thursday evening during a merciful break in the rainy weather, the Rams are Moore League champions this year after an undefeated 9-0-3 league season.

“I can’t even put it into words,” said Rams coach Tino Nunez, who was an All-CIF soccer player at Millikan on the Rams’ 2001 CIF championship team. “I’m a Ram, to do something like this at your school, it means so much.”


Millikan’s bid for its first Moore League title in girls soccer in at least two decades got off to a perfect start, with Karli Slater providing an advantage just 50 seconds into Thursday’s showdown with Poly.

Savanna Alba made a diving stop on Skyler Herrera, Emily Tamayo stopped another Herrera blast with her face, and the Rams came up with big defensive plays again and again to finish one point ahead of the Jackrabbits (11-1-2, 9-1-2).

“Oh, that second half, 40 minutes. Oh my God, I survived it,” head coach Tino Nuñez said as his players celebrated around him. “You like the early goal, but it’s also a dangerous goal. Because now they’re awake, you play a little more frantic, the nerves get you a little bit more.

“This group has shown resilient, a lot of heart, and mentally they’re tough. They deserve it.”

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DECEMBER 5, 2019



In past years, before the Long Beach Unified School District upgraded most of the city’s high school soccer fields to artificial turf, Moore League soccer matches were often muddy, messy grudge matches. Since the passage of the bond that allowed the upgrades, most soccer games are now technical and beautiful, with ball movement and precise passing.

Thursday’s league opener between reigning league champion Millikan and Long Beach Poly was an old-school affair, played on an old-school grass field in old-school mud. The Rams came up with the last-minute magic to start their title defense on a positive note, defeating the Jackrabbits 2-1.


Millikan's midfielder Alyssa Reyes, center, celebrates her game-winning goal with her teammates in Long Beach on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

LONG BEACH — Millikan took a quick first step in the Moore League girls soccer race Thursday night, pulling out a 2-1 victory over visiting Long Beach Poly on Alyssa Reyes’ 80th-minute strike, a huge result in what’s expected to again be a three-team fight with Wilson for the title.

“I told the girls: Tonight we’re not going to win or lose Moore League. But it would be a great way to start league,” Rams head coach Tino Nuñez said. “Because every point counts — as we know, as last year we won it by one point — and when you’re able to take a point away, especially from a Poly or a Wilson, and add them for yourself, that’s always a big plus.”

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FEBRUARY 16, 2019



Isabella Meyer hadn’t participated in a penalty kick shootout for Millikan until Wednesday night when she begged her coach for a chance, promised her teammates she wouldn’t let them down, and then delivered the performance of a lifetime.

After 100 scoreless minutes in the first round CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs, Meyer stopped the first three penalty kick shootout attempts from visiting La Mirada to push the Rams (14-6-7) into the second round of the top flight for the first time in school history.


Millikan players lift up teammate Josie English as they celebrate their win over La Mirada on penalty kicks in Long Beach on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. Millikan beat La Mirada 0-0 (3-0) on penalty kicks to advance to the next round of CIF girls soccer playoffs. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

Isabella Meyer was clear from the start: If Millikan went to penalty kicks in its CIF Southern Section girls soccer playoff opener, the Rams could count on her.

The sophomore goalkeeper was true to her word Wednesday night, stopping all three of La Mirada’s shots to lead Millikan (12-6-8) into the second round of the Division 1 tournament – and a home showdown Friday with two-time defending champion JSerra (15-0-3), ranked No. 1 in the nation – following a 0-0 draw on the Rams’ bumpy field.

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JANUARY 24, 2019


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The Rams stayed in first place with a game in hand thanks to goals from Alyssa Moran and Azalia Salazar. The Millikan defense collected its 13th shutout of the season, and the Rams have only allowed one league goal. Sophomore goalkeepers Isabella Meyer and Savanna Alba split time.

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JANUARY 8, 2019


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JANUARY 12, 2018


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