Celeste Boureille honed her creative instincts by kicking a soccer ball around Panhandle Park as a kid growing up near Haight-Ashbury. Now, she is looking to parlay her playmaking skills into a breakout season for the 20th-ranked Cal women's soccer team.
The Golden Bears are kicking off the 2013 season with high expectations, picked by conference coaches to finish third in the Pac-12 Conference as they head into their opening match, a nonconference clash against UC Irvine on Friday. The team is loaded, returning several key players, including Boureille, who coach Neil McGuire calls a "remarkably creative" talent.
"When she's really free-flowing and having fun with the game, she's very difficult to stop," McGuire said.
Boureille grew up watching soccer on TV with her father, chef Max Boureille, a French native who previously owned the restaurant Bistro Clovis. She played several sports as a child, but fell in love with soccer once she started dribbling the ball at Panhandle Park prior to her 12th birthday.
The 19-year-old forward said she developed her game experimenting at Panhandle Park.
"When I go to Panhandle Park, I juggle and try new moves and try to be a little creative on the ball," she said. "I guess it just comes out naturally while I'm playing."
In high school, Boureille owned the West Catholic Athletic League while playing at Sacred Heart Cathedral, where she set several scoring records. She earned first-team All-WCAL honors twice and won the 2012 Player of the Year Award as a senior, scoring 18 goals and registering 11 assists.
Former Sacred Heart Cathedral coach Matt Nuttall said Boureille's soccer IQ is "off the charts."
"What makes her unique is the way she uses the field," Nuttall said. "She saw things that other players didn't see and she's willing to try things other players aren't willing to try."
Boureille played meaningful minutes in each of the Bears' 22 games as a freshman last season, helping Cal to a 16-6 record that culminated in an NCAA tournament second-round loss to San Diego State. She scored three goals, two of which were game-winners, and showed her creativity immediately netting the Bears first goal of the season against Pacific.
In addition to being smart and creative, McGuire said Boureille is among his three best-conditioned athletes on this year's roster and he praised her commitment to perfecting the details.
Boureille, who is looking improve her shooting accuracy, heading and communication skills, said her goal this year is to just get better.
"There's so much that can be improved," she said. "You can never be perfect."
SEASON OPENERCal vs. UC Irvine
WHEN: Friday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: UC Irvine, Irvine