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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Next step: Isabella Longo transforms game in offseason, leads surging University girls soccer squad

University junior forward Bella Longo has scored eight goals in four matches this season.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Sometimes high school soccer players will have a physical jump from one year to the next, or a mental shift that allows them to play with more creative freedom.

For University junior Isabella Longo, it has been a little mixture of both.

As a sophomore in 2021, Longo had eight goals and one assist in a full season. In four matches this season, Longo has already found the back of the net eight times.

She wanted to get quicker on the ball, freeing up her game. That has allowed her confidence to blossom as a result of a competitive mentality.

Longo has provided a scoring punch for U-Hi, which operates in a 4-3-3 formation. That formation relies on the striker to hold up play from the back as the wingers and midfielders parade forward. It also expects the striker to find the gaps in the defense behind the backline.

“She can do it all,” Titans fifth-year head coach Kara Sharpe said. “She’s great with the ball at her feet. But she does great with running on the (through) balls. She’ll split two defenders and gets to balls that you don’t think she’s going to get to, and she she’s just so physically strong.”

U-Hi is off to a blistering 6-2 (1-1) start with the meat of its schedule coming up in the next four weeks as it plays four of the top five teams before Oct. 18.

It started Wednesday against Ridgeline when the Titans lost 3-2.

Longo missed Wednesday’s matchup with a nagging bone bruise, but Sharpe expects her to be 100% as the season progresses, saying that she has the ability to lead the league in goal scoring.

She sits second behind Gonzaga Prep’s Jennah Wanner, who has scored nine goals in seven games.

“I think that she definitely has the potential to be that if she continues to keep her confidence up and continues to play the way she has,” Sharpe said. “She’s going to continue to have a great year, but we are going to be facing a lot tougher defenses and she’s going to have to continue to work hard.”

Facing the buzz saw of the next month certainly helps when the Titans have one of the league’s top scorers back in action, especially if she is one of the upperclassman leaders who push her teammates by working hard every moment she gets.

“She just really works and works and works and she gets goals that other people might not get just from grinding and working and taking that extra step,” Sharpe said.

It was up to Longo to prove that working hard during the offseason and during practice would lead toward more production, Sharpe said.

Still, the influx of goals was a bit of a surprise to the forward.

“I did, I put the work in, I was hoping for it,” Longo said. “I am just excited to play, to get out on the field and play under the lights. It’s all just a really exciting thing, so I’m pumped about the way it’s going so far.”

Longo worked on herself this offseason – it was a lot of shooting on her own and forcing herself to be fast on the ball, getting the ball off her foot, prepping for a shot, setting up a teammate or to take on the defender.

“I wanted to have a better season than last year just to prove to myself that the work that I’ve put in, it’ll pay off,” Longo said. “So, my expectations for myself was to really help lead my team and hope to have a better season this year.”

Sharpe said Longo’s finishing is improved, as she can shoot on a dime better in 2022 – which capitalizes on her strong knack for goal.

The Titans are building of their State 3A appearance a season ago, going 6-12-1 in 2021, so the goal is to reach those heights at least, this season.

While Longo’s elevated production has surfaced in a hurry this season, what has continued to be strong is her infectious and electrifying personality that instantly lifts the spirits of her teammates.

“Everybody wants to be around her,” Sharpe said. “She’s one of the kindest, most humble kids I’ve ever met. She’s just a really awesome teammate and person to be around, just great positive energy.”

Transforming that energy into success during their early fixtures begins with Longo, who credits a lot of her mental fortitude to her dad.

“He just always puts the time and the work in, and we’ve always talked about the strong mentality that you have to have playing any sport,” Longo said. “No matter what position you are, no matter what you do, the mental game is a huge part of any sport.”

It also helps that her six siblings have pushed her to be the best.

Longo, the fourth of seven kids, has always measured herself up to the other Longo children, but specifically her older sister Francesca, who plays for Community Colleges of Spokane.

Francesca was a senior when Isabella was a freshman playing for the Titans.

“With as many siblings as I have, there’s competition 24/7,” she said.

That same competitive mindset bleeds onto the field, but it doesn’t lead to bitterness. Instead, it breeds chemistry, Longo said.

At , the Titans are rolling right now behind Longo and the rest of the well-constructed and confident squad.

“Everybody’s rooting for everybody,” Longo said. “It’s a great group of girls, great coaches. It’s looking pretty good. Everybody’s building each other up all the time.”