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Goal-Oriented Misaki Thrives in Spotlight

November 27, 1998|TRIS WYKES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWHALL — Erin Misaki has been a marked soccer player since elementary school.

But these days the Hart High senior is the one taking aim--at a Southern Section title, a successful college career and an eventual spot on the U.S. national team.

Misaki, twice a member of The Times' all-region team, is widely recognized as the region's best girls' soccer player. The 5-foot-3 midfielder will have the undivided attention of every opponent, and it's been that way for years.

"I remember being 7 or 8 and on the [American Youth Soccer Organization] team my dad coached and him saying we were playing Erin Misaki's team, and that was a big motivation," said Kelley Puckett, a senior defender at Hart. "He'd have me mark her and I'd think it was the end of the world."

Misaki's talent and poise elevate her team and unnerve opponents. Hart, winner of five consecutive Foothill League titles, advanced to the Southern Section Division I semifinals last season, finishing 22-3-3. The Indians were division runners-up in Misaki's sophomore year.

Oliver Germond, Hart's sixth-year coach, said he enjoys coaching Misaki because of her skill and ability to enhance a strong supporting cast.

"Erin's a great player, but it's not like the rest of our players are bad," Germond said. "If you have a pure goal-scorer, you tend to give [her] the ball and stand around. But Erin gets everyone involved and makes them better."

Misaki, who has 37 goals and 28 assists in the last two seasons for Hart, is spending this week in Bradenton, Fla., competing with the U.S. under-18 national team. She has committed to Portland, a perennial NCAA Division I power she chose over Stanford, UCLA, USC and California.

April Heinrichs, coach of the U.S. under-16 national team on which Misaki played last year, said Misaki has the potential to achieve her ultimate goal--earning a berth on the U.S. national team.

"She possesses incredible [ball-handling] skills," said Heinrichs, the women's coach at Virgiina. "She's very creative and she did extremely well with us."

Misaki has achieved prominence at the club and national levels, but remains a vital part of her tightly knit high school team. Seven Hart players have been teammates since fifth grade.

The Indians return eight starters other than Misaki, including junior midfielder Becca Gould, who had 13 assists last season and was a second-team all-region pick by The Times. Other players to watch include sophomores Allie Pavoni, Mandy Mansfield and Diane Sanguinetti. All are adept at forward or in the midfield.

"High school soccer is a completely different experience for me and a lot of fun because you're representing your school," Misaki said.

"I think my high school teammates are proud of me more than anything. I don't feel I have to hide what I've accomplished, yet I don't throw it in their faces either."

Puckett said Misaki's modesty has helped prevent any resentment of her achievements.

"Erin never hogs the ball, she's always setting you up for the perfect pass and you know she'll play defense," Puckett said. "She's very excited for us when good things happen in our lives and we're very happy when good things happen to her."

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