With a large smile and a contagious laugh, Oksana Reynoso does not immediately look like the most competitive person in the room. However, Reynoso points to early memories on the playground that defined her mentality today.
“I was super competitive when I was younger,” Reynoso said grinning. “If kids were playing a game, I’d go up there and I would tell them I’d beat them. They would say we’ll see and I’d get to play.”
That attitude helped define Reynoso as a soccer player as she advanced from grade school playground hotshot to a Madera High School star and then to a college standout.
Now she’s hitting the pinnacle of her soccer career, soon transferring to a four-year collegiate soccer power in Austin, Texas.
Her father, Cris Leon, said her attitude separated herself from others.
“She’s a stubborn person sometimes,” Leon said. “You can’t tell her she can’t do something. If you doubt her, she’s going to go out there and beat you.”
Reynoso, 19, was born in Fresno, but lived in Madera most of her life. After making her mark as a soccer player at Madera High, she graduated in 2015 then enrolled at Fresno City College.
Reynoso struggled to stay out of bad situations like academic and disciplinary problems in middle school and high school.
Things got so bad at home, she recalled, her parents took her phone away — for her three years in high school.
“Soccer was the only thing that wasn’t taken from me as a punishment,” Reynoso said. “I’m glad that I found something I was really good at because I was sort of lost without it.”
Reynoso started playing soccer when she was 10 years old but didn’t take to the sport at first. She began on a recreational team before her skills developed and when she began to blossom, she was asked to join the Madera Red Stars club team that traveled around the state competing against other clubs. She went on later to win a state cup with the team.
“The first time I ever started playing soccer, I was the worst one on the team,” Reynoso said. “I completely looked horrible and my dad even called my mom and told her that soccer wasn’t for me. He said he felt bad for me.
“Eventually I got the hang of it. I’m really athletic and super aggressive so eventually it clicked.”
Reynoso continued to improve on the field and, in her freshman year, she became a starting central defender for the Madera High Coyotes girls’ soccer team and kept that starting role for four years until she graduated in 2015.
Her time on the pitch — what soccer enthusiasts call the playing field — was in stark contrast to her time in the classroom.
“I was always getting in trouble,” Reynoso said. “I would ditch class, never turn in my homework and I wouldn’t listen to my teachers. It was hard to understand what I was going through so soccer really helped me. I was able to express myself on the pitch, which was what I needed at the time.”
Leon said the situation was frustrating at times.
“It was frustrating because we knew she was a good kid,” Leon said. “Deep down our daughter was always there, but it’s one of those things where they have to experience it on their own.
“We knew she had to learn the hard way and that’s part of the reason she’s at where she is today.”
Although Reynoso enjoyed a stellar soccer career that later culminated in a defensive MVP honor her senior year, it was how she carried herself off the field that affected her reputation at the time.
“The fact that I was pretty amazing at soccer and I never got recognition because of how I characterized myself at the time made me want to be a better person,” Reynoso said. “Back then, I didn’t care what authority thought about me. I didn’t care about authority; I didn’t want anybody telling me anything.”
A combination of support from her family and faith led to a drastic change in Reynoso’s mindset. The doors seemed to open as soon as she let God in her life, she said.
“They (her family) always supported me and pushed me to play soccer,” Reynoso said. “I even quit at one point right before the state cup and they were just there supporting and also pushing me. They knew I was distracted so they knew soccer was the best thing for me.”
The family influence she said, caused her to quickly reverse her decision to quit. Then a short time later she helped lead her team to the cup.
“I changed the life I was living because of God,” Reynoso said. “I literally did a 360-degree change. I know if I keep on this path that God has me on, my dreams and these doors that are opening for me now will be there because my faith is strong. Once I gave all honor and glory to God, things changed for me.”
During her two years playing for the Fresno City Rams, she helped lead the team to back-to-back playoff appearances and a combined 36-6-6 record.
Her excellent play caught the eye of St. Edwards University, a Catholic school in Austin, Texas. She received a scholarship totaling $11,000, which pays for her school along with room and board.
The head coach at St. Edwards, Nick Cowell, 56, jumped at the chance to add her to his program citing her character as a good match.
“This program has had a lot of success,” Cowell said. “Our squad is very competitive so it takes a lot for us to bring someone in. Our success is predicated on teamwork and commitment. We try to identify athletes with no ego off and on the pitch as well.
“Everything I’ve heard from her junior college coach and other coaches who played against her leads me to believe she is an ideal fit for our program. What stood out was her physical appearance as well as her mentality. She’s a winner and she’ll fit in nicely here.”