Equipped to Lead and Succeed

Building the San Diego Wave

A trio of USF Sport Management grads is helping establish a legacy team in women’s soccer

Three sport management alumni are making history as they work to build a world-class home for the San Diego Wave Fútbol Club, the most successful expansion team in National Women’s Soccer League history.

Alyssa Maitoza ’13 is the director of corporate partnership sales, and joined the team at its inception in December 2021 after fulfilling a number of sales roles at the San Francisco Giants for almost 10 years. Kaila Cruz ‘22, who signed up just before graduation in April 2022, is the senior account executive for member services. And Marissa Alvarez ‘24 has been an intern with the team for nine months, after serving in an event operations role for the San Diego Padres during her first year in the Sport Management program. Here, the three talk about their experiences.

What has been your favorite part of helping build San Diego Wave FC?
The first-ever sellout crowd of 32,000 resulted in a win against rival Angel City FC on September 17, 2022, and was a memorable highlight for Maitoza and Cruz. “As we all soaked in that day, an immense sense of pride filled us and made the previous nine months of hard work, dedication, and sacrifices worth it, because we saw firsthand that we are truly building a legacy that will be passed down from generation to generation” says Maitoza. Cruz agrees that the “fiercely passionate” San Diego community fully embraced the team, with high levels of excitement, connectivity, and belonging. For Alvarez, another game at Snapdragon Stadium with over 30,000 fans in March 2023 was a highlight: “The atmosphere and energy of this game is something that I have never experienced before. This game was a different type of energy, it felt very authentic. It was one of the most rewarding moments I've experienced before; to see all these people here to support our team was truly amazing."

How have your previous professional experiences prepared you for success at San Diego Wave FC?
Adaptation, change & growth, for starters. For Cruz and Alvarez, their career paths through different segments of the sports industry, supported by the Sport Management program, have prepared them for the high-intensity, ever-changing environment of professional sports. Cruz credits her experiences in global sports event management with Super Bowl LVI, grant research and development work with the Southern California Gold Association, and even her role as assistant sports editor for the student-run Daily Titan at Cal State Fullerton with preparing her for her current role.

Alvarez’s professional past includes roles with the athletic department at Cal State San Marcos and the UCLA football team before her time at the San Diego Padres. Her previous experience serves to highlight the unique aspects of her role at San Diego Wave FC: “It is one of first times I’ve seen so many women in front office positions... working alongside so many intelligent and compassionate women has been the best experience and atmosphere I have ever worked in so far. It’s always a great day to be a woman in sports!"

Both Cruz and Alvarez point to the positive impact of the Sport Management program: “This program is elite in all the ways possible, from our excellent program directors, to our alumni base, to our instructors who are active in the industry.” Alvarez most appreciates the integration of work and study in the program, which enabled her to actively work in the industry while pursuing a master’s degree. Cruz recalls the courses that most shaped her: “Professor Cellini’s Leadership & Critical Thinking in Sport Management class gave me the mental tools to be set up for success; Professor Manning’s Analytical Business Development & sales class reminded me why I love ticket sales and service; and Kati Kasch’s Commercial Strategy & Innovation in Global Sporting Events class sparked my interest in the revenue side of sports.” The program’s active alumni network also helped — an informal interview with Maitoza led to Cruz’s position at San Diego Wave FC.

What advice do you have for Sport Management students?
“One word: relationships” advises Maitoza, who also points to an informational interview she did in Professor Cellini’s course with Annemarie Hastings when she was VP of client relations at the San Francisco Giants: “My biggest takeaway from her was the importance of relationships, and that word has guided my professional career in sports. As the old saying goes, people will often not remember what you did but they will remember how you made them feel.”

Maitoza reminds students that the business of sport, including corporate partnerships, is a relationship business – relationships with prospects and clients, internal stakeholders, your team, and with community leaders and fans. Cruz agrees: “Create strong and lasting relationships with your cohort, your professors, your peers, mentors, bosses, fans, and anyone and everyone in between because while your skills will take you far, and knowledge will take you further, it’s people who will take you furthest.”

Alvarez, who graduates in May 2024, says that other students and young professionals should always take the opportunities available to them, try everything, connect with their motivation, keep grinding, and follow their own journeys. She recalls Professor Cellini’s challenge that “every day is an interview - from the way you dress, the way you speak, your facial expressions, the usage of your phone, your vocabulary, to the way you enter a room. It’s all those little things that are the big things, that really mold you into the professional you are.