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ALL-COUNTY SOCCER TEAM

Title Driven

Estancia's Mendoza Proves to Doubters Height of His Talent

March 14, 2000|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You can count Torrance Bishop Montgomery Coach Kevin Clarke as one of Estancia senior Esaul Mendoza's many skeptics.

"I heard about how many goals he had scored," Clarke said. "But I wondered how legitimate those numbers really were."

Like most of Estancia's opponents, Clarke learned the hard way: Numbers don't lie and size doesn't matter.

Mendoza--all 5-foot-7, 130 pounds of him--single-handedly destroyed top-seeded Bishop Montgomery in the Southern Section Division IV final--scoring four goals in Estancia's 5-2 victory.

"If I had it to do over again, I'd double team him," Clarke said. "I put two different guys on him and he was toying with them."

Mendoza's final tally: 47 goals in 22 games, 13 in five playoff games.

"That guy is the real deal," Clarke said. "I've seen Matt Taylor [of Irvine] and I've seen a lot of other good ones, but he's the best player I've seen this season. His quickness, his speed and his knowledge of the game sets him apart."

A lot of players had great seasons: Taylor, Fountain Valley's Cliff McKinley, Santa Margarita's Spencer George and El Dorado's Ignacio Cid. But Mendoza is the Times' Orange County Player of the Year.

"The championship didn't surprise me," said Mendoza, who plays forward. "And I expected to score a lot of goals. But player of the year? I wasn't expecting that."

Until a few months ago, Mendoza wasn't expecting much after he finished his high school career. He had considered playing professionally in Mexico or even trying out for the local A-League team, the Orange County Waves. But college had never crossed his mind.

"I never thought I'd get this far," Mendoza said. "I didn't see myself where I am now."

After being virtually ignored by Division I colleges, Mendoza is suddenly a hot commodity. Loyola Marymount and UC Irvine are among the schools that have recently expressed interest. It appears the only thing keeping Mendoza and his 2.7 grade-point average from a Division I scholarship is a qualifying score on the SAT, which he will take for the first time next month.

"I don't have any doubts Esaul will end up somewhere," Estancia Coach Steve Crenshaw said. "He's very intelligent. It was just a matter of motivation for him."

Mendoza said the motivation for his breakout season began last spring, after Estancia had suffered a second consecutive early-round playoff loss to Laguna Beach.

"After that game, we decided we were going to do whatever it took to win it this year," said Mendoza, who came up five goals short of Albert Mendez's single-season county record of 52.

The Eagles lost only once--to Santa Ana, 1-0, early in the season. Their last blemish came two days later--a 1-1 tie against El Toro. From there, Estancia went 10-0 in the Pacific Coast League and 5-0 in the playoffs, outscoring opponents, 29-5, and earning the Eagles' first section title in 15 years.

The Eagles were not easy to defend. If Mendoza wasn't scoring, his sidekick, senior Cesar Terrones (34 goals, 13 assists), usually was.

"If they went for me with two guys, that left an opening for Cesar," said Mendoza, who also had 15 assists. "And I was happy to give it to him."

But in the final, it was Mendoza's show. He scored on a close-range blast originally thought to be redirected by teammate Jon Alderete and a 30-yard missile that had the crowd at La Mirada High buzzing.

"He was taking a guy off the dribble on the left sideline and he fires it so hard and places it so perfectly inside the far post that our goalie didn't even move," Clarke said. "Our goalie looked back in amazement when he saw the ball in the back of the net. I've never seen anything like it."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

BOYS' Player of the Year

Esaul Mendoza

School: Estancia

Position: Forward

Numbers: 47 goals in 22 games, 13 in five playoff games.

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