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Dear Alexis. Pioneer-Woodland goalkeeper Alexis Mata set the bar high when she wrote her future self a letter.   By DANIEL HERBERHOLZ | Contributor...

Dear Alexis. Pioneer-Woodland goalkeeper Alexis Mata set the bar high when she wrote her future self a letter.

  By DANIEL HERBERHOLZ | Contributor

As a sixth grader, Alexis Mata set a goal. Six years later, she’s achieved it by blocking them.

Mata wrote a letter to her 18-year-old self — like a lot of kids are instructed to do — while attending Holy Rosary School in Woodland. In it, she detailed her ambitions of attending college on a soccer scholarship. I hope I’m still playing soccer, she wrote, because I just love it. UCLA was her ideal destination but, really, the point was to play into her 20s.

So she kept practicing hard with Woodland Soccer Club and, come freshman year at Pioneer High, Mata began training with the more competitive San Juan Academy. She also played for Pioneer, and would be minding the net as the school earned its first playoff victory, a 3-2 win over Christian Brothers-Sacramento in the first round of the 2015 Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs.

Now, the goalkeeper is going to University of Hawaii to play women’s soccer.

There was one hiccup, however. Basketball nearly drew her away.

Mata started shooting hoops in middle school and, by midway through her sophomore year at Pioneer, she preferred hardwood to the green grass of futbol. She played with San Juan Academy as a freshman and knew she’d have to choose between the sports in club competition. Once she settled on basketball, Mata feared telling her parents, Marco and Anna Lucia Medina.

“They love watching me play soccer,” Mata said. “I thought about it for two, three weeks before I could actually say it to them.”

First she shared over the phone, then again on the way to her San Juan tryout. “My mom, it devastated her,” Mata said.

“You’re a natural at this,” Medina told Mata. “How do you not think about that?” Medina made Mata take even more time to ponder. “You need to be doing this,” Mata recalled her mom saying, “This has been your dream for a long time.”

Medina remembers standing at the San Juan tryout and thinking it might be Mata’s last day dedicated to soccer. “I was in tears,” Medina said.

Maybe Mata ran across that letter to herself, or remembered how she set the same goal for herself when given the same assignment as a freshman. Maybe Mata was swayed by how quickly San Juan coach Billy Wiskel whisked her onto the roster — Medina’s theory, since, as she recalled, “the coach automatically said, ‘Lex, you’re in.’”

Mata, though, completely credits Medina.

“She knew this is what I had to do,” the daughter said. “After thinking about it, I decided to stick with it. If it wasn’t for her, who knows?”

One thing’s for sure: The Aloha State wouldn’t be beckoning.

Hawaii assistant coach Marc Fournier first saw Mata play in a workshop she attended, which he was helping to run, at the San Diego Surf Cup. Again zeroed in on soccer, Mata impressed Fournier enough to stay on his radar until her junior year, when he phoned to start recruiting the keeper.

Hawaii head coach Michele Nagamine said Fournier “was just very, very impressed with her athleticism and her shot-stopping ability.”

Medina was similarly impressed with Nagamine, calling her “a coach slash mother figure,” and happily allowed Mata to go on an official visit to Hawaii’s campus.

“The chemistry with the coaches and the team, that’s what sold me,” Mata said of her trip there. “Like, wow, they’re really like a family here. I want to be part of this.”

Also enticing was Fournier, who played two seasons at University of Hawaii at Hilo and was once named second-team PacWest Conference. A coach’s insight can really push a player, as Mata knows. She praised the help of Woodland Soccer Club coach Ramon Hernandez. Hernandez doesn’t get paid by the club, “but a girl like Mata going there, that’s enough for me” — as well as Pioneer coach Anibal Morales and, most importantly, Wiskel.

Medina believes that Wiskel, who moved to Seattle midway through Mata’s four-year stint with San Juan, had a big impact on her. Mata added that Wiskel “broke me out of my shell.” Mata is still the same soft-spoken gal off the field. She’s just a lot louder when she’s in net.

That might also be because of Pioneer basketball coach Mark Rocha, who encouraged her to be a vocal leader last season. In her junior campaign, Mata’s inside presence and ability to get to the free-throw line helped the Patriots’ turnaround from a two-win campaign to the school’s first playoff berth in girls hoops. Pioneer was knocked out in its opener, but Mata returned to the postseason as a senior with soccer.

The goalie called the win over Christian Brothers and the ensuing quarterfinal loss to eventual runner-up Manteca “probably the best games I’ve played for Pioneer.” The opener included a save against Nici Lopez, her teammate with San Juan who is also headed to Hawaii. On a corner kick, Lopez got her head on the ball — but Mata blocked it. “We both fell on the ground,” Mata said, “and she’s like, ‘Really Lex?’ I tapped her on the head, like, nice try.”

Skill and swagger are two reasons why Nagamine said Mata will compete with two juniors for the starting spot this fall at Hawaii.

“Lex is a very, very good shot-stopper,” the coach said. “We love her competitive spirit and we think she’s going to be a contributor her freshman year.”

It seems the sky’s the limit for Mata. She is intently following this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada and sometimes finds herself daydreaming about succeeding Hope Solo. In the meantime, starting this summer, she’ll be spending tons of time in a paradise beyond her dreams. And she deserves it, Medina said.

“She has the biggest heart,” Mata’s mom said. “She’s hungry to get where she needs to be. I know she has a lot of passion and drive. I’m so proud of her.”

Her sixth-grade self would be too.

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