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Junior midfielder Mateo Zazueta keeps the ball away from a Rider midfielder during the game at Rhodes Field on Sept. 2. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Having scored his first goal for the Quakers in Penn men's soccer's opening game of the season against Rider University, junior midfielder Mateo Zazueta hit the ground running this season. 

Zazueta has played 345 minutes across his five starts so far this fall, up from last season when he played in 11 of the team's games but finished the season with just one start and 177 minutes played.

“His approach to the spring season and through the summer with maintaining his intensity and level of fitness has been a big part of his positive start to this fall, and I hope that it continues,” coach Brian Gill said.  

With the pandemic having wiped out most of his freshman season, Zazueta is effectively playing his second season as a Quaker. 

Though training for the season is challenging, it has also helped Zazueta and his teammates establish a unique rapport.

“We have to train between matches and that’s tough at times, but everyone is so motivated and bought into what we’re doing,” Zazueta said. “There’s just so much trust within the team. This is the most technical team we have had.”

Technicality is a particularly strong trait in Zazueta's game, and it was something that stood out to Gill when the coach was recruiting the junior midfielder.

“I just really enjoyed the balance between the application of technical abilities and his competitiveness as an athlete,” Gill said. “Looking at him (in high school), he was someone we could use in various positions on the team.”

San Diego Surf Academy, Zazueta's alma mater, allowed him to learn the importance of striking a balance between academics and training. That preparation helped make Zazueta's transition to Penn smooth. 

“The athletes in college are just bigger, and the hours you put into the gym are so much more than in high school," Zazueta said. "The level is higher than in high school because of the physicality of it."

Development academies like San Diego Surf Academy are a popular option for many soccer talents looking to get recruited. Zazueta's teammate and freshman roommate, junior midfielder Michael Hewes, also attended one. 

Hewes and Zazueta have established a tight bond, and Hewes cited his former roommate's sense of humor as a part of what makes him stand out.

“He’s a little quiet at first, but once you get to know him, he’s so loud and loves to make us all laugh,” Hewes said. “He’s just a joy to be around.”

His personality shines through not just with his teammates, but with his coaches as well: Gill appreciated Zazueta’s ability to lift up those around him.

“He does a good job providing light-hearted moments for the group, but is also very competitive,” Gill said. “I think that balance is something we really need in that group, and with him getting older, I think he’s finding his moments to provide his leadership and good, focused competitive energy to the group."

Zazueta actively recognizes the value of his moments of leadership, wanting to be a guiding hand for younger players on the team. 

“Mistakes happen. I’ve definitely gone through them my first year at Penn and I want them to understand that it is okay and it’s a process and you need to keep going,” Zazueta said. “My actions affect what the younger guys perceive, so I want to always keep a positive mindset around them."

With much of the Quakers' season ahead, Zazueta is encouraged by how the team has performed so far, currently sitting at 4-1-1. His expectations are high for Penn as it finishes non-conference play and prepares for its Ivy slate. 

“These last few games, the morale of the team has been really good. To be honest, our team has never been better,” Zazueta said. “For the rest of the season, everyone is really excited, and we want to win the Ivy League title this year.”