San Dieguito junior Tristan Norton works with Mustangs coach Jesus Rico-Sanz during a practice.
ENCINITAS In the opening game for the San Dieguito Academy boys soccer team this season, junior Tristan Norton stepped right up and scored on a 30-yard free kick to help key a victory. That’s how to make a good impression on a new coach.
Norton has continued his strong play, and so have the Mustangs under Jesus Rico-Sanz.
After reaching the San Diego Section Division III semifinals last year, No. 8 San Dieguito (10-4-3) is seeking to advance further this season behind Norton’s team-high 14 goals and seven assists. And, yes, he’s remained the main Mustang to take free kicks.
“Tristan’s constantly working hard, and everyone just respects him,” Rico-Sanz said. “He’s gets the ball, gets ready and puts it in the play. Every free kick, he puts the ball on target.”
This offensive touch comes from a player who plays defense the rest of the year with his club team.
“Here, I get to go up, and it makes me a more well-rounded player,” said Norton, a forward for prep play. “I’ve always been good at getting the ball where I want it to go. Now that I’ve made a couple of free kicks, my confidence is just up more.”
Along with Norton, senior forward Julio Sanchez has also gone offensive for the Mustangs with nine goals and five assists in a switch from his position as defensive midfielder in club competition.
“Julio’s a good asset,” Norton said. “He’s very quick and skilled on the ball. We give him the ball on the outside, he can juke a player and take it in or he can make (a crossing pass) to find another player.”
San Dieguito has six returning starters from last season, also spearheaded by captains Kyle Smith and Kyle Hoff. In goal, sophomore Geraldo Olvera has six shutouts.
“From the beginning of the season, we’ve progressed a lot,” Sanchez said. “It’s because of how we play as a team. We all have good chemistry and get along. We talked about how we can improve our skills.”
Rico-Sanz became the coach after incumbent Craig Dean took the same job at neighboring La Costa Canyon. In addition to the Mustangs, Rico-Sanz coaches on the club level and in the pros with the Los Angeles Blues, based in Fullerton, in the United Soccer League, a step below MLS.
“I try to make sure the boys understand that they’re representing an institution,” said Rico-Sanz, a Spanish native, who played in the Real Madrid system. “I tell them that they’re entertainers. People come to watch them, and they need to put on a good show with the best performance possible.”
In a school tradition, the Mustangs wear a dress shirt and tie on game days. In a switch this season, they’ve become practice night owls with drills starting at 7 p.m., following the girls varsity, so they hit the books for homework before hitting the field.
The Mustangs’ signature victory so far this season came on Jan. 7 when they dealt top-ranked Carlsbad its first loss of the season 2-1. Leading the way was Norton with a goal and an assist.
It was a playoff-type game, preparing San Dieguito for the postseason that will start in two weeks.
“I’m really excited for playoffs to come,” Norton said. “We expect to do well based on how we’ve been playing.”
In other words, Norton and the Mustangs want to leave a lasting impression.