NORTHRIDGE, Calif. - A senior midfielder on the Cal State Northridge women's soccer team, it is Sonia Espitia's responsibility to connect both the offense and defense, and work to control the entire pitch.
Along with this important role on the field, Espitia, as a student-athlete, must perform well off of it, juggling a full class load with nearly 20 hours or practices and matches each week.
Despite this hectic schedule, Espitia makes time not just for her teammates and her studies, but also for those who have taught her the values of trust and compassion. As with most student-athletes looking for a break from their heavy workloads, for Espitia, the answer is family.
And as with most families in the world, there is something unique about the Espitia's that has instilled these values that Sonia holds dear. For Sonia, it is her relationship with her sister Sophia.
Sophia has Down Syndrome, which affects about 1 in every 800 babies born in the United States every year, according to March of Dimes. Because of the challenges she faces everyday, Sophia has inspired Sonia and has given her a new outlook on life. "My sister is the type of person that is happy every day. Nothing bothers her," said Espitia.
Since a majority of her Saturdays during the soccer season are free of any athletic obligations, Espitia travels home to Long Beach to volunteer and practice with her sister's hometown soccer team. Sophia plays in TOPSoccer, a community-based youth soccer league for athletes with disabilities.
Her family does everything to attend as many of her games as possible, both at home and on the road. Win or lose, Sophia is always the first one onto the field to congratulate her sister with a hug.
"Sophia is like the glue for their whole family," said senior defender Jasmine Pratt who has been playing soccer and living with Espitia since their freshman campaign. "The Espitia's have a great dynamic; there is a lot of love and support in the family."
With the addition of lights to Matador Soccer Field, Espitia's family will be able to enjoy more games. Almost always the first to arrive, they will not need to worry about afternoon traffic and lugging around umbrellas for every game.
"Playing at night will help out a lot more," said Espitia. "My family likes the added intensity of nighttime soccer without the awful heat."
After games, both Espitia and Pratt get together with the family to relax and catch up. By being able to spend time with her family, Espitia can unwind and clear her head before focusing on her next match.
"The support of my family reminds me why I am here in the first place," she said. "Because of my sister, I now have the impression that everyone is capable of doing the right thing."
Espitia chose her major, Family and Consumer Sciences, because it offers her the opportunity to find out how people act and how she can help them. After graduation, she wants to become a family and marriage counselor or a school counselor so she can help children.
Because of everything she has learned from her sister, Espitia says she is less ignorant and more accepting of others. This attitude helps her excel both on and off the field.
Coming off of a junior season where she scored her first career goal and finished with six points to earn a spot on the All-Big West Second Team, Espitia looks to continue to support her teammates in hopes of another playoff run in 2010.