MOHAVE COUNTY – Topping the National Junior College Athletic Association’s most competitive division is no simple endeavor, but nonetheless, that’s the goal of the budding Mohave Community College Soccer programs. Rising to the task will require raw talent, polished skill and the kind of drive exhibited by the most dedicated of athletes.
Those in the know say those kinds of players, the ones who impress both on and off the field, can be found right here in Mohave County. That’s why Men’s Head Coach Camilo Valencia and Women’s Head Coach Cynthia Cervantes start their searches for champion-caliber players at the local level.
Doing so sees them work closely with high school coaches from all throughout one of the largest geographical counties in the country.
“Mohave County is a hotbed for soccer,” says Christian Lizardi, Head Coach of the Kingman Bulldogs. “This opportunity will put Mohave County on the map. The talent is serious, the drive is here.”
Following a Mohave Community College camp at which area players from multiple high schools demonstrated their skills, the race was on to contact those players with the qualities envisioned for Mohave Community College Bighorns. For the women’s team, Cervantes looks for talent accompanied by team-specific values of determination, integrity, respect and commitment. That includes commitment to work as a team and commitment to positioning Mohave Community College as a top contender in Division 1 competition.
“For me, talent is never enough,” says Coach Cervantes. “We’re also preparing these athletes for life and to represent Mohave Community College and the community as a whole. As the first women’s team, we’re also making history and setting the stage for the future of the program. It’s more meaningful for community members when we have players that share their values.”
Coach Valencia is looking for slightly different values in his players, summarized by the “Three H’s”: honest players, humble players and hungry players. He says honest players give their best on a daily basis while also taking care of themselves, their teammates and the program at large. Humble players are gracious in victory and defeat and know the importance of remaining coachable. Hunger is the hunger to win, which is a vital component in building a championship-contending program.
“And we’re looking for resiliency,” he says.” We’re going to go through a lot of unknowns, so I make it very clear to recruits that they must be resilient, and willing to push through obstacles and challenges.”
And while skill is not the only thing that matters when it comes to recruitment, make no mistake, it plays a big part. At the collegiate level, players are bigger and faster, they know the game better and they’re playing for more than a solid record.
“Going from high school to Division 1 play, the college level is much quicker and faster,” says Christina Gibbs, Head Coach of the Lake Havasu boys’ team. “Everyone is as big and strong as you are. While you might stand out in high school, when you get to the college level, there are a lot more people on your level or even better than you.”
In fact, many look to leverage their success to play at universities or even professionally. While that may be true of younger athletes as well, these are adults who are that much closer to achieving those goals. That makes them hungrier.
“From a spectator perspective, the game will be completely different from what the community is used to,” says Coach Valencia. “The play is super-fast and the level of technique will be much higher due to the caliber of player. These aren’t kids anymore; they’re adults.”
Less than one year from now, the men and women of the Mohave Community College soccer programs will take to the pitch for nail-biting collegiate competition. They’ll battle the toughest teams in the country comprised of some of the best players from the United States and beyond. That means both programs are looking for support from families, former teammates and, of course, the community.
“Soccer is a huge part of our little community here and we have a lot of people who support it,” says Matt Camacho, Head Coach for the boys of Mohave High School. “It’s very cool to see that we now have these programs that are pathways for young adults to continue their educations and their soccer careers.”
“Athletics has the power to unite a community,” says Coach Valencia. “This will be another way for us all to come together and support a common cause and a team that shares our values.”