By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
The scenes remain an indelible part of the most prolific playoff run in Santa Clarita Valley boys soccer history:
Justin Ikeora breaking away from defenders to score a golden goal and deliver Valencia High a walk-off win in the first round of the regional tournament.
Luis Garcia Sosa launching a parabolic free kick, the ball bouncing and finding its way into the net in the championship game, a contest in which Valencia was a heavy underdog.
Ikeora and Garcia Sosa were key members of the Viking team in 2016 that won the first CIF SoCal Regional title in SCV boys soccer history.
Now, both have matured into linchpins of a Master’s University team firmly in the mix for a conference title.
Stats tell the story – at least for Garcia Sosa.
The junior midfielder has scored six goals and dished out six assists for the Mustangs (11-4 overall, 3-2 GSAC), who currently sit in a three-way tie for second place in the Golden State Athletic Conference with three matches left to play.
On Saturday, Garcia Sosa scored the game’s lone goal in a road win over rival Westmont College, beating a defender and lofting a left-footed shot into the top right corner of the goal.
Teammates swarmed him.
Ikeora’s impact isn’t as easily defined. That is, if you don’t personally witness the 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior hound opposing attackers.
After splitting time between offense and defense during his first two seasons, Ikeora has entrenched himself at center back and keyed four shutouts and a 1.23 goals-against average.
His growth over three years has been dramatic.
“I would tell him, ‘I’m scholarshiping you to play 70 to 90 minutes and to be an important part of this team and not to settle for less,’” coach Jim Rickard recalls. “‘The guys see how good you can be and how athletic you are. You need to be a key part.’”
Placing Ikeora in a leadership spot like center back speaks to the progress that’s been made.
“I think as he’s seen how good he is and worked with other people and been in a pretty consistent lineup, I think tactically and in terms of shape and positioning, he has grown a lot in those areas,” Rickard said.
Garcia Sosa said of Ikeora, “He’s always been the fastest guy on the team. The physicality part was never an issue for him. Technically, he had the skills in college. But the IQ, knowing where to be at certain parts of the game, that is the big jump he made.”
Garcia Sosa’s growth has centered on poise.
The midfielder created plenty of scoring opportunities earlier in his career, but now he’s finishing with more consistency. His six goals dwarf his previous career high of three.
“I think he’s maturing,” Rickard said. “You get that confidence, you know.”
When Garcia Sosa was playing at Valencia, did Rickard envision him making this kind of impact at the college level?
“Oh yeah,” the coach said.
The Mustang men’s and women’s soccer teams play at home against Hope International on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. (women) and 3 p.m. (men).
Women’s volleyball will host San Diego Christian at TMU on Saturday at 7 p.m.
For more information on The Master’s University Athletics, visit GoMustangs.com.