International soccer tradition dictates that the number 10 jersey is worn either by the team’s most skilled player or its best playmaker.

Esther Annoreno isn’t Riverside-Brookfield’s best player – that honor goes to sophomore striker Allie Kucera – but she is the Bulldogs’ top playmaker.

So it’s no surprise that the junior midfielder proudly wears No. 10.

Annoreno is a three-year starter. Her position has changed this year from outside midfielder to center midfielder, but her production has remained the same. She is leading the team in assists for the third straight year, with many of them going to Kucera.

“(Her strengths are) definitely controlling the middle, sending the through balls to Gabby (Tarrant), Allie and Kathryn (Sessler) so they can finish,” Annoreno said. “I just feel like that I try to control the middle but feed through the sides to score.”

Annoreno’s efforts are appreciated by Kucera, a Division I prospect who scored 27 goals last season.

“It’s so courageous of her to go for playing a new position because that’s extremely hard, especially in the midfield,” Kucera said. “We lost Ashley Ferguson to graduation and she was that attacking center mid.”

Annoreno had seven goals and nine assists as a freshman and got even better last season, notching nine goals and 10 assists as the Bulldogs won a regional championship.

But she’s had to take on a more high-profile role this spring and opposing teams are making more of an effort to stop her from feeding Kucera.

“It’s a completely different,” Kucera said of Annoreno’s role. “It was good of Esther to step up in her new position now.

“She at some points doesn’t know (the right move), but that’s just because it’s a new position. It’s frustrating for her but she overcomes it all and I think that’s awesome.”

Annoreno, who has three goals and seven assists through the first 11 games, is now the linchpin of the Bulldogs’ lineup. She is the key link in getting the ball from the defenders to the forwards, a task RBHS (5-4-2) has struggled with against some of the bigger Class 3A schools they play.

Playing with the boys

But Annoreno is no stranger to challenges. Before enrolling at RBHS, she played several seasons as the only girl on an all-boys team, R-B United.

That team, which plays at Ehlert Park, won the US Soccer national championship at the U-14 level.

“I loved it,” Annoreno said. “(The boys game) is a different game, so much quicker.”

Annoreno found that the boys didn’t hesitate to push her around but she learned to give as good as she got.

“I tried to push them down when I could,” Annoreno said. “It was definitely intimidating but it was worth it. I felt like I got better from playing with the boys.”

In fact, she prefers the faster pace and physical style of the boys game.

“I like the game better, I guess, just because it’s so much quicker,” Annoreno said. “But I love playing with girls because you know they’re friends.”

In addition to her increased responsibility on the field, Annoreno now has a greater role off of it. She is one of the leaders on a team that has six players who are older than her and eight that are younger.

“I’m trying to be more of a leader towards the younger girls on the team,” Annoreno said. “They can always learn from me and the other juniors and seniors.”

Annoreno, an aspiring nurse, wants to play college soccer. She has drawn strong interest from Carthage and Knox, and knows she has much to work on, especially defensively, before reaching the next level.

One area that doesn’t need polishing is her leadership. Kucera gets most of the spotlight because she scores most of the goals, but Annoreno is fine with that.

“Definitely working as a team is one of my strengths,” Annoreno said. “Soccer is a team sport, not individual, so whatever we can do together to get the most goals and stop most (opponents’) goals (is important). (Getting assists) is not scoring, but it’s just as important.”

Scouting Report on Annoreno

Esther Annoreno, RBHS junior

Position: center midfielder

Stats (2016): 4 goals, team-high 7 assists

Career: 20 goals, 23 assists

Overview: Annoreno has filled the void left by Ashley Ferguson (graduated in 2015) as the Bulldogs’ attacking center midfielder. She’s an exceptionally veratile player who is a dual-threat passer and scorer. Annoreno has emerged as one of the Bulldogs’ leaders and a mentor for younger players.

She also has aspirations of playing college soccer and is already drawing recruiting interest.