Oceanside senior Ciara Gutierrez has found new joy in soccer.
OCEANSIDE Smiles came easily for Ciara Gutierrez as one of the region’s top girls soccer players entering her freshman year at Oceanside High. Besides her passion for the sport, she also was affectionately known in middle school as a class clown.
Then the joy diminished, and the laughter stopped.
Gutierrez became a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder because of escalating family issues. She showed signs of depression, seclusion and lethargy. The situation added to longtime anxiety issues, which brought on stress-induced asthma.
“I was feeling pretty hopeless, and I felt like I was in a bit of a hole,” said Gutierrez, now a senior. “I’d try to come out, and I’d try to come out, but I only kept making my hole deeper and deeper. So it was tough.”
The player who had qualified for the Southern California Olympic Development Program as a standout club performer cut back her soccer to one remaining thread, playing each season for the Oceanside varsity.
In her sophomore year, Gutierrez reached a personal low point by her account, and by coincidence, the Pirates hit a nadir with only one victory on the season.
Then both would rise.
With Gutierrez helping lead the way, No. 10 Oceanside claimed its first league title in school history this season. It was a moment of celebration for Gutierrez’s mother, who recalled a fitting childhood saying cited by her younger son, Joey, 11.
“My little son goes, ‘God puts a rainbow out there to clear everything up and bring the sun out,’?” Veronica Gutierrez said. “It just reminds how the sun is shining on Ciara again.”
Matters became brighter with the help of therapy for the younger Gutierrez through Palomar Family Counseling starting in her sophomore year.
“At first it was hard to adjust,” Gutierrez said. “Letting out your feelings isn’t always super easy. But it helped me out. It really did. I got used to it, and now I know how to help myself.”
Gutierrez credits her mother, two brothers and longtime friends for their support. Also, there was the link to soccer and teammates who were also her classmates.
“With high school soccer, you’re there with people you see every day,” Gutierrez said. “You’re close knit, and there’s more of a family vibe to it.”
In that sense, Gutierrez became more of a big sister last season with the arrival of freshmen varsity members Hannah Wright and Christina Settles.
“I took them under my wing, and we were all on the same page,” Gutierrez said. “We just clicked really well.’’
Gutierrez noted that she returned to be her old self then. Now she’s a team captain as selected by the coaches and her teammates.
“Over the years, I’ve seen leadership qualities in her,” Pirates coach Miguel Barragan said. “Little by little, they started coming out. The way she interacts with everyone, she’s done a great job.”
The 5-foot-3 Gutierrez has long been known for her soccer skills. At age 7, she was playing with girls two years older.
“Ciara has great vision of the game and great knowledge of it,” Barragan said. “She has a knack for being a playmaker and just has an amazing shot.”
Three times this season, Gutierrez has scored on shots from 40 yards out. Into last week, she had seven goals and five assists overall despite playing at center defender this season in a move from midfield to help the team.
“My favorite thing about soccer was always just the feeling you get after you score or take on a player,” Gutierrez said. “It was something that I lived for. The competition motivated me to want to be the best.”
So Gutierrez is looking for Oceanside to be at a peak for the San Diego Section Division II playoffs starting next week. A year ago, the Pirates (14-7-3) were ousted in their first game.
Whatever the final outcome, it’s already been a season of triumphs on and off the field for her.
“Because of what she’s gone through, she’s very understanding and compassionate of others through their own personal trials,” her mother said. “There have been so many blessings in this lesson.”
And as before, Gutierrez has been named class clown.
Truly, she can smile and laugh again.