One day, during Krista Eberle’s first year of youth soccer, the team’s center back didn’t show up. So the coach put the current Eastlake High senior in the gritty and unglamorous position.

Admittedly, Eberle wasn’t thrilled by the move from midfielder seven years ago. Yet, with guidance from her coaches, she soon reached the point where she wouldn’t be anywhere else.

It put her in position to commit to UNLV during her sophomore year, help lead the Titans to the San Diego Section Division I title that season, and then with a move up to the Open Division win yet another crown last year.

“I love being that one last player (ahead of the goalkeeper),” Eberle said. “If I get the ball, I feel like a hero. It’s ‘Oh, yes!’ I love the pressure of it because it just makes me want to work harder every single time that I step on that field.”

Eberle, who joined the varsity as a freshman, earned all-section first-team honors last season.

“Krista is a phenomenal player,” Eastlake coach Mark Coziahr said. “She has technical ability with athleticism, and you combine that with her poise on the field and maturity. She’s a cornerstone of our team.”

With all her championship experience, Eberle plans no changes in the approach for a possible three-peat this season.

“The year that we won Division I, we just did it game by game,” Eberle said. “We didn’t look bigger. We just wanted to go slowly and go with the flow. Same, last year. I talked to my teammates (about a three-peat), but once again, we never really focus on that.”

The Titans have six returning starters from last season’s squad that won the Open crown as the fourth-seeded team.

Ready to step forth in goal is junior Mia Shalit, who is also committed to UNLV. She succeeds Glo Hinojosa, last season’s section Player of the Year, who is now at UC Irvine.

“It’s going to be quite different (without Hinojosa), but it’s not going to be an obstacle at all,” Eberle said. “We’re ready for this.”

Senior Masyn Purvis also helps spearhead the defense, while helping to power the attack are junior Taylor Summit and sophomore Daniela Chavira, who has committed to SDSU.

In last year’s section final, the Titans (19-6-3) prevailed on penalty kicks in six rounds over Steele Canyon after the teams went scoreless in regulation play and overtime.

Eastlake lost its opener in the Southern California Regional Division I playoffs 2-0 to Santa Margarita as Eberle was sidelined 15 minutes into the game with a twisted right ankle.

Since that ankle had chronic issues, it took Eberle two months to return. She has since been full strength in accordance with a training program designed for college, including soccer skills and overall athleticism

Eberle played up a year in age level on her club team, so she had teammates to consult about college preparation.

“It just really helps,” said Eberle, who plans to do pre-med studies. “Some players regretted not starting training earlier. So I’m really trying to get in shape and ready for college.”

At the same time, she’s geared up to provide the Titans with senior guidance.

“First of all, it’s crazy that I’m a senior. I still remember my first varsity tryout as a freshman,” Eberle said. “Of course, it’d be nice to win another championship. I just really want to impact these girls to always play with all their heart and never give up. That’s really got me through this process. I just really hope to affect us like that.”

Ready for the defense, ready to lead the team.

Thien is a freelance writer.