VENTURA — Lisa Engel stood next to her mother on the Buena High sideline with all the other girls from the Mighty 83 club soccer team.
The seventh-graders were two years from becoming part of the winning tradition of Buena girls' soccer and were getting an up-close view of the varsity.
Engel admired the Bulldogs. She wanted to be like midfielder Barbara Almaraz, a 1997 graduate who plays for the Mexican national team and USC.
"I was just like all those other little girls that go to the games now and have their role models," Engel said. "I wanted to go to Buena."
Engel's wish almost never came true.
While an eighth-grader attending Cabrillo Middle School in Ventura, the district's boundaries were changed. Engel had to attend Ventura High. Engel started for the Cougars her freshman year, but wasn't happy.
She wanted to be a Bulldog.
That same year the Buena-Ventura school district switched to open enrollment. Engel entered a lottery to go to Buena.
Engel, a star midfielder with a chance to win a second consecutive Southern Section Division II title, got her wish.
So did Buena.
"We went to the playoffs and lost that year when Lisa was at Ventura," Buena Coach Trish Butterbaugh said. "I told my husband if Lisa was here the puzzle would be complete."
Butterbaugh was right.
Engel's transfer has brought the Bulldogs more success.
Buena, which plays Mission Viejo at 2 p.m. today at La Mirada High for the championship, is 81-4-4 with Engel in the lineup.
"She is the engine and the motor of the team," Butterbaugh said. "We don't need to play with two center midfielders. She does the job of two players. She makes it look so easy. She is in such control and brings a lot of confidence."
Engel does the work of two players but doesn't score the winning goals or take the most shots.
She's the playmaker. She throws tackles in the midfield, strategically places free kicks and wins loose balls.
"People who know the game can give me more credit for the work I do, because they understand the creativity, vision, speed of play and tactics that are involved in my position," said Engel, who makes the drive to Huntington Beach twice a week to practice with her under-18 club team, the North Huntington Beach Magic.
"I control the pace of the game and I help make opportunities for the forwards."
Engel's contributions to the Bulldogs are priceless. She's been the silent hero who has led Buena (27-1-2) to the finals the last two years and a quarterfinal appearance her sophomore year.
"When Lisa came to Buena our soccer team got so much better," said Natalie Sanderson, a forward who plays for the under-19 national team. "We need composure in the midfield and she has it."
Engel averaged more than 13 goals and 18 assists each year at Buena, but this season her job is more than feeding passes to Sanderson and Ashleigh Garmon. Engel is training the younger players how to be successful at her position.
"It would be really exciting to set a record by winning two [Southern Section] championships in a row," said Engel, who is bound for Stanford. "It's very important we set the standard for the school and women's athletics. As a senior, I'm kind of training the new midfielders."
For the last three years, Engel has started at center midfielder on the Olympic Development Western regional team.
Engel led the team to a 5-0-1 record against women's club and national teams in England and Ireland last March.
"When I'm on the regional team I'm playing to get on the national team, so it's an individual excitement," Engel said. "It's like I'm playing for myself. When I play with Buena, my thrill is a team thing."