OXNARD — Jaime Ambriz was overshadowed by older teammates last year when the Rio Mesa High boys' soccer team achieved its first winning season in the program's 17 years.
This season Ambriz has been the Spartans' best player--and perhaps the best in the Channel League.
A junior striker, Ambriz has 26 goals and six assists in 18 games. Rio Mesa (13-6-3) plays at Saugus today in a Southern Section Division II first-round playoff game.
Ambriz, 5 feet 11, 155 pounds, played in only 13 games last season because of injuries, and even when he did play his desire and skill level were not what they are now.
"Last year I was kind of intimidated, but this year it's like a different me," said Ambriz, whose team overcame a sluggish start to finish fourth in league play.
"I thought the guys who were bigger than me were better, but I found out that height and weight don't really matter. It's the effort, not the size, that matters in soccer."
No one has questioned Ambriz's effort of late. In 10 league matches, he scored 16 of Rio Mesa's 25 goals and assisted on six others.
"After last season I finally got healthy and started practicing on my own," said Ambriz, a three-year starter. "I knew if I wanted to go to college for soccer I had to pick it up."
Ambriz should be a high-profile recruit as a senior.
"This year Jaime can beat a triple-team, he chases the ball all over the field and he can bicycle-kick whenever he wants," Coach Brent Kruk said. "He's not like a lot of other strikers who are just a big body near the goal who can finish plays."
Ambriz and Rio Mesa today are trying to eliminate the champion of the Foothill League for the second consecutive season. Last year the Spartans upset Burroughs on the road in a first-round game.