Pick any moment in Solei Moton’s soccer career and chances are her cousin Flavia Burrell has been there too.
From Burrell’s first introduction to soccer, when she said Moton and her mom encouraged her to sign up for tryouts, to their First Team All-Region showings at Catalina Foothills High School in Tucson, Ariz. and now to their freshman season at Cal State Bakersfield, they’ve been “attached at the hip,” Burrell said. They live seven minutes away from each other in Tucson and are two months apart in age.
“Goalkeeping is a very isolated position,” she said, “but having somebody else that’s family alongside you on defense, it doesn’t make it feel so lonely.”
Off the field, the cousins have each other as a “piece of home,” Moton said, as they get adjusted to their first year away at CSUB. On the field, they can rely on each other just as much.
“Flavia sees the whole field because she’s the last person,” Moton said. “So just having her talk to me and be in my ear while I’m playing has definitely helped me on the field.”
Or as Burrell puts it: “I get to yell at her all the time.”
However you characterize their on-field interactions, the pair have already begun playing an integral role for Roadrunners’ women’s soccer just five games into their career. Burrell has played all 470 minutes of the season as the team’s first-choice keeper, making 28 saves along the way. Moton has been a key rotation piece for CSUB, also appearing in every game as she transitions to more of an offensive role after joining the team as an outside back. She just recorded her first two shots in a road loss at Eastern Washington on Sunday.
“Back home, they always say, don’t expect playing time, it’s not guaranteed, especially in college,” Moton said. “There are girls that are four years older than you that you’re going up against — you have to earn your place.”
The fact that she’s gotten so much experience already, she added, means her “hard work has paid off, and it’s showing.”
Sou Moussa-Torres, who coached the cousins for four years at the youth club level and two seasons at Catalina Foothills, said she isn’t shocked they’re contributing right away at CSUB.
“I think that watching them through the years, they are always up for a challenge,” Moussa-Torres said. “And I think of Flavia more so because she has such a specialized position as a goalkeeper, and you really have to stand out.”
Moussa-Torres noted that the cousins excelled early in high school, too. Burrell said she’s found the experiences rather similar.
“I thought that there would be an upperclassman keeper that made (me) earn my spot,” she said. “Someone that I could learn from rather than just me diving right in. But I’m enjoying it a lot, yeah.”
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Burrell. She and Moton first announced commitments to CSUB in September 2019, back in the fall of their junior year. They had both been targeted by a barrage of emails from the Roadrunners, then were sold on the school by the camaraderie among team members they experienced on official visits.
But after the pandemic hit, club play was on and off, and Burrell found herself lobbying at local school board meetings just for the chance to play high school sports.
“I went through a period where I wasn’t sure if I still wanted to play college soccer,” she said, “and I felt kind of guilty about that because that had been my dream since, like, sixth grade, was that I was going to be able to do this.”
For Moton, COVID-19 had an opposite, galvanizing effect: “If anything, I just wanted to get here sooner... and be able to play soccer consistently.”
Now that Burrell’s in Bakersfield, enjoying the “close-knit” vibe and adapting to college, she said it’s become easier to envision her future. She hopes that in the years to come, she and Moton will grow as athletes and students and bond with the broader Bakersfield community, so that playing at CSUB becomes “what we’re meant to do, not just something that we’re doing to get a free education.” Moton added that the team had a meeting Tuesday morning about being a person before a player, a motto she hopes to use for personal growth in the season to come.
The team has plenty of growing to do on the field. They’re 0-4-1 and coming off a grueling weekend road trip on which they lost 4-1 to Idaho and 5-0 to Eastern Washington. With two weeks until the start of Big West play, there’s a lot of work to do.
Moussa-Torres has no doubt they’ll muster the strength to do it.
“When you’re an athlete, you endure a lot of challenges, and sometimes failure,” she said. “And their ability to just kind of pick themselves up, and dust themselves off, on to the next game, on to the next tournament — they’re mentally strong.”