The Beautiful Game

Emilio Alcaraz

California State University, Bakersfield is rich with athletic talent. That is especially true with the soccer programs that are instructed by seventh-year men’s coach Richie Grant and women’s coach Sebastian Vecchio, who is in his third year. These coaches must motivate and educate student-athletes in order to reach their full potential. Tom Shepherd and Jordan Martinez are the types of athletes that have potential both on and off the pitch.

Tom Shepherd is a forward on the CSUB  men’s soccer team. He is an international student from England and is a communications major. Shepherd also represented the Wales national U-19 and U-17 team.

Jordan Martinez is a Senior student-athlete at CSUB playing defender in the women’s soccer team who played right and left wing position. She studies Business and Public Administration with a concentration in Accounting. Her CSUB career moment was scoring a hat trick at home game against the Kansas City Roos in 2019. Martinez says, “UMKC was always a tough competitor for us, and up until that game we had never beaten them. The energy on the field and bench was amazing, every single person excelled at their role. Every win is a team win and this one is a team performance I will never forget.”

 Describing his CSUB experience Coach Grant  says, “ I came over to college in the United States in 1989. To not be working with our players is an odd moment. We were excited to enter the Big West. We won five of the last seven games and felt like we had momentum which will now be put on hold.” Coach Grant’s teams have won National Soccer Coaches Association of America team academic awards a total of six times. Displaying that his team is working hard in the classrooms as well as the soccer pitch. Coach Vecchio has been coaching since 2005 and views it as a “a way for [Vecchio] to give back to players, school, and community. Soccer is a great sport to watch and an even better sport to play”.

Deciding on how to proceed as a student-athlete and coaches during these trying times seems difficult. Therefore, their aspirations must be maintained with the monotonous limitations that they have and will endure:

Question: Since High Schools are also postponing their season what will be your recruiting progress and timeline?

 Coach Grant: “The evaluation process has certainly been hampered because we have not been physically able to watch games since March. There has been a lot of online recruiting in terms of watching players’ videos from the past. There has been a lot of international recruiting because the student-athletes have sent forward their games that we review.”

 Question: Are any players that stand out to you? Any players that are going the extra mile either academically or physically?

 Coach Vecchio: “We have several players but especially our three team captains know all the players and have been through alot of games and seasons. There is also a lot of young leadership. We started a lot of Freshman in our starting eleven. The leadership is stepping up and holding everyone accountable. It’s nice to see them stepping up to the challenge.”

 Coach Grant: “Gyasi Zardes is such a great ambassador and role model for everything CSUB athletics wants to accomplish. He may be the finest scholar-athlete we have ever produced. He continues to be active with Columbus Crew and comes back to our program. He gives his time with our players and the players have a great role model that they can aspire to. He has shown them the way forward from what they can accomplish in their time at Bakersfield.”

Question: What are your thoughts about the NCAA giving an extra year of eligibility for senior student-athletes?

Coach Vecchio: “Of course we are happy that the seniors do not have to lose a year. There are some very special seniors that get to play an extra year. There are some students that are on track to graduate and different people have plans but we are always happy to come back.”

Martinez: It was great to hear that the NCAA is going to give athletes an extra year of eligibility to seniors. Sadly, I will be unable to come back and play for a fifth year due to a knee injury. Within the past 10 months I have had two procedures and two surgeries on my right knee. In early October 2020, I had my second surgery which ended up being more intense than expected. A week later I was told by the doctor that there is a good chance I will need a third surgery in the near future and it was in my best interest to no longer compete in collegiate sports. He then informed me that I would be medically retiring.

Question:  How do keep motivations high for athletes?

Coach Vecchio: “Obviously, we are happy that scholarships are a motivation for the student to be competitive in their studies and keep their fitness up. We have talked about how to stay focused and positive and the mental side of things. We have a lot of time to work with the team off the field. This changes the dynamics of our training habits. The athletes are hungry and self-motivated.”

Coach Grant: “That has been a challenge. There has been a lot of professional development amongst the staff. It is about keeping the lads focused on the moment that they are in and control what they can. We can only control our academic culture and our guys had the highest male GPA on campus. We want them to be motivated and optimistic that this moment will pass. We pride ourselves in helping young men cope with adversity and this is that moment. It has taken away things that they enjoy whether that is in the classroom learning or competing in a Big West conference match.”

Question: Do you or your team share any importance in voting? Do you influence others (including family, friends, and teammates) on your viewpoints?

Martinez: “I think it is important for everyone eligible, to vote. Everyone has a voice and the biggest way you can use it is by showing up and voting. I would say I do influence others with my viewpoints because my experiences in life are different from those surrounding me. The one thing I love about my team is that we are extremely diverse. I like talking with them about their viewpoints and exchanging thoughts. We have girls of different ethnicities and cultural background, girls who are from out of state and girls who are from other countries and we are all here supporting each other. Although I know where I stand and what I stand for, I still enjoy hearing different perspectives, it has helped me expand my thoughts and add to my knowledge. I believe it is important to hear what others have to say, we should never stop learning.”