by MOSES LEOS III
Lehman Lady Lobo junior forward Max Soto smiles – big. She grins from ear to ear, with one of those smiles that encapsulates happiness and pride.
Perhaps it was due to this one simple truth: Soto is now a part of something great; she would forever be chronicled in Lehman High School lore.
On Feb. 26, Soto broke a Lehman High soccer scoring record that had not been remotely touched since 2010. On the heels of a 10-0 victory over Cedar Creek, Soto scored three goals which increased her career total to 54, breaking the previous record of 51 set by Dominique Jaquez.
Thee importance of the moment wasn’t lost on Soto, but her confidence to set the record was exceptionally high. After all, breaking the career scoring record has been a goal of Soto’s since her freshman year at Lehman.
Soto said she has been in touch with the former record holder, and once sent her a message. “I’ve been keeping in touch with (Jaquez), and I have let her know, ‘That record is mine, that record is mine. I’m coming in and I’m going to take it’,” said Soto, with a grin.
Soto, though, remains cognizant of how important this moment is. Lehman is still in its infancy as a varsity athletic program, she said. Soto knows how important breaking the goal scoring record is to Lobo athletics, the Lady Lobo soccer program and her own personal goals.
“It is a big step (for the program) that I am only the second person to break the record. I really wanted to get into the trophy case, to have my cleats alongside Jaquez. To be the next person to set the record is such a big thing for me,” Soto said.
But, focusing on soccer was not always an easy task for the Lady Lobo forward. When she was ten years old, Soto’s family moved from the bustling metropolitan city of Chicago, Illinois, to the rural landscape of Kyle, Texas. The move was something Soto had difficulty dealing with. “Initially, I did not like living in this area. I was not happy. It was just my parents, brother, sister and I. We had no other family living in Texas,” she said.
But the game of soccer helped her cope with the changes around her. “The only thing that made me happy was the ability to play soccer,” Soto said.
Her soccer career began with recreational leagues, but she would progress to club level, joining Hays Fusion, by the age of ten. Though, coming from Chicago, Soto did not know what to expect at the next level, much less what it was.
Soto eventually learned what to expect at the club level. Soto attributed her success to one of her first coaches, Demond Johnson, who taught Soto a better feel for the game, “(Demond Johnson) started me off in the midfield, though I was not entirely confident there. He thought that I was a strong fit (at that position),” Soto said.
During her time with Hays Fusion, and then moving up to the Lone Star Soccer Club and State Classic League of the South Texas Youth Soccer Association, Soto obtained an understanding of how to excel. “Playing club soccer helped me, because the speed of play is much faster. Once I entered high school, my confidence level was much higher. I think just having that background, having that knowledge made it easier to strive for the (Lobo scoring) record, and to break it.”
At Lehman, Soto was under the tutelage of head coach Nauri Garcia, who instilled a brand new way of playing soccer.
“It is a learning experience (at Lehman). You could have played soccer since you were four, but the style of play we have here, the way we do things—you have to relearn the game. You have to learn the way (Garcia) wants his players to play on the field,” Soto said.
Despite the learning curve, Soto’s savvy play and intellect helped her achieve many of the goals she set out to accomplish.
And, she credits her teammates with a lot of support, especially on the day she broke the record.
“My best friend on the team, (senior) Mariah Tamayo, said before the Cedar Creek game, ‘this is something we are going to get for you, this is something we can do for you. We will pass you any through ball we can. We are going to make this happen,’” Soto said. “My teammates knew what I was going for; they have been so supportive all during this process. I appreciate them very much for that.”
Soto realized that the drive provided by the Lehman head coach has been one of the factors to her success. “Garcia has always pushed me to stay up top every game to score goals.”
“If there were someone I would want leading my team, that person would be Max,” said Garcia, who has the Lobos on the verge of earning a postseason bid.
Former record-holder Jaquez, who continues to communicate with and guide Soto, was elated when she finally was able to “give her cleats company” in the Lehman High athletic trophy case.
“It is really awesome that she broke my record. I am a little sad that it fell, but if there were someone who I wanted to accomplish that, it would be Max,” Jaquez said. “I hope she continues to work hard and accomplishes everything she sets out to do.”
Soto could not underestimate the pride and joy her accomplishment has brought to her parents, who have been supporting her since her start. On the day she broke the record, Soto’s parents constructed a large sign to commemorate the occasion. Soto said she will fondly remember that sign for a long time.
Only a junior, Soto, aspiring to reach 70 by next year, now has an opportunity to smash the career goal-scoring record. With three games remaining this season, Soto has 29 goals, and now eyes the single season scoring record of 31 set by Jaquez in 2009.