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One of the state’s top scorers, Anna Waldman leads Mendocino College in goals and assists. (Photo by Mendocino College)

By MICHAELCOIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A conference title, the state playoffs — Mendocino College women’s soccer is poised to achieve those program firsts.

Ranked among Northern California’s top junior college teams, the Eagles are soaring toward a Bay Valley Conference crown.

Hosting a state playoff game, in Ukiah, would be another milestone.

“When we play our best as a unit, we can definitely compete with any team,” said midfielder Ronnie Richter, out of Mendocino High.

Led by playmaker Richter and top scorer Anna Waldman, who both returned to the game after years away from college, Mendocino has a mix of players starting to find a groove on the field. Strong on offense, Mendocino is managing games better and limiting opponents’ scoring opportunities.

“We’re really starting to get our rhythm and play together on the field. We’re starting to get that down,” said Waldman, also from Mendocino High.

Orchestrating the program’s resurgence is Shane Huff, a former Ukiah High and Cal State Bakersfield standout. Huff coached at the four-year college and high school levels before taking over as Mendocino’s coach ahead of the 2011 campaign.

That first team was young and it struggled. Yet the experience helped prepare the players for this season’s turnaround, including focusing on fitness.

“To be a part of our program requires huge commitment and sacrifice that fosters player development,” Huff said. “Our young ladies commit year-round. We have found that the players become much more passionate about the team because they have invested so much time and hard work into the game.”

Work for this season began in July with a summer soccer class, conditioning and practice. Twice daily, five days a week for nearly a month the team improved strength and speed as well as skill development and team play.

“Fitness is one of our biggest things. We did put in a lot of time conditioning to get ahead of our opponents,” said Hailey Young, a first-year player from Ukiah High, where she was All-Empire.

Anchoring a solid recruiting class are Waldman and Richter. The pair from Mendocino were playing on a Fort Bragg women’s summer team when Mendocino College coaches took notice. Their skills and love of soccer remained strong some five years after high school.

“Both Ronnie and Anna are excellent students and they have been outstanding on the playing field,” Huff said.

One of the state’s top scorers, Waldman leads Mendocino in goals and assists.

Richter is a center midfielder, organizing possessions and skilled at setting up teammates.

That they are key contributors to Mendocino’s success comes with mutual respect for one another’s abilities.

“It’s nice to be on the same level maturity wise. We’ve played together for so long, we’ve got a really good connection. It’s nice to share that with her,” Waldman said.

Reconnecting on that Fort Bragg summer team reminded Richter of how good the pair plays together.

“It’s great to have some chemistry. It’s been fun,” Richter said.

Mendocino’s strengths have been a formidable work ethic.

“We’ve really gotten good at playing as a unit,” said Young, who plays on the back line and in the midfield. “If we keep calm, we’re capable of doing anything.”

If the Eagles finish in the top eight of the region’s rankings, they would host at least one playoff game.

Playing with the best in the postseason is heady stuff for a program without a winning history.

“I didn’t even know about women’s soccer at Mendocino College,” said Richter, who was to play at Humboldt State before a knee injury ended her hopes. “It’s nice to turn the program into a successful one. It’s going to create an opportunity for all the young athletes closer to home.”

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