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SOCCER : It's a Save for Cal State L.A.: Prieto Comes Back for Another Season


Peter Prieto was not too sure he would stick around this fall for his sophomore season on the Cal State Los Angeles soccer team. But after weeks of weighing options, he decided to return.

He has not regretted his decision.

With the rangy, 6-foot-2, 165-pound goalkeeper's help, the Golden Eagles have emerged as one of nation's top Division II teams.

Prieto was one of seven freshman starters last season for Cal State L.A., which lost its first four matches and five of its first seven before finishing 9-10 as a Division I independent.

"Last year, we weren't going to matches as a team," Prieto said. "I was giving it everything I had, but there was no unity. You can't win that way. We had good players, but it was more like individual players with their own attitude."

Prieto was not too excited either with Cal State L.A.'s move this year to Division II as a member of the California Collegiate Athletic Assn.

The Golden Eagles won three CCAA titles from 1980 to 1984, including reaching the 1981 national championship match, before moving up to Division I in 1985. But state budget cuts and increasing travel costs forced the program to return to Division II.

Cal State L.A. was not ranked among the Top 25 in Division II at the start of the season, but the Golden Eagles have won three consecutive CCAA matches--including a 5-4 win over Cal State San Bernardino on Wednesday--and are ranked sixth in the nation in Division II by a NCAA panel and second in the Western Region. The Golden Eagles, will play host to Mount St. Mary's today before returning to conference play at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Wednesday.

The Golden Eagles (8-1-2, 3-1-2 in CCAA matches) opened the season with five victories, shutting out three opponents and winning the championship at the Cal State Bakersfield tournament.

Prieto, who had 47 saves as a freshman and one shutout, already has 51 saves and three shutouts in 10 matches. He gave up one goal in the first nine matches.

"Last year, we were a program in transition," Cal State L.A. Coach Leonardo Cuellar said. "We took a chance to start seven freshman and they got a little experience for this year. It's still a young team. Most of them can stay for two more seasons so the future of the group is promising."

The future was not quite so promising last year, when Prieto, a three-time selection to the Camino Real League first team at Bosco Tech High in Rosemead, was recruited by UCLA. Prieto seriously considered UCLA's offer but chose Cal State L.A. because of its Division I status and its proximity to his Montebello home.

"I was thinking again about going to UCLA," Prieto said. "I talked to a couple of people and they said 'Yeah, UCLA. C'mon, you should go.' "

Cuellar also had Prieto's welfare in mind. He agreed to release Prieto from his scholarship from Cal State L.A. if he chose to attend UCLA.

"Everybody has their options open. The main thing for me is education," Cuellar said. "Someone like Peter with a good future in the sport obviously wanted to have better exposure and more possibilities to be successful in college, so he explored the possibilities of going to UCLA."

The Golden Eagles' recent success has extended to the school and the community. In previous seasons, there were occasions when the number of players often outnumbered the spectators, but now several hundred fans show up for games.

"It was sad," Prieto said. "Nobody used to come to our games. Now, I look up in the stands and all my family and friends are there. I used to think about transferring a lot. But right now with the way things are going, there is no way I would leave."

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