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Men’s club soccer ready for another crack at Nationals

Andres Martinez
The UTEP club soccer team will play their first game in Memphis against the University of Virginia on Nov. 20.

For the second consecutive season, the UTEP men’s club soccer team is going to the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) National Championships. Starting on Nov. 20, the team will travel to Memphis, Tennessee, in hopes of winning their first national championship since 1989.

The club team has been a successful recreational sports program for the last 25 years, with many of the team’s past and present players being former collegiate soccer players, who now play the game for the love of it.

Despite the team’s history and past success, many students today do not even know that UTEP has a club soccer team, let alone the fact that they are playing in the NIRSA National Championships for
back-to-back seasons.

“We won last year (regionals), and with our passion we did it again this year,” said team captain Raul Irigoyen, a senior civil engineering major. “It’s a pleasure for us to represent our school on a national level.”

As of now, this year’s team stands at 6-3-1 on the season, with their only loss coming against Arizona State early in the season. Despite the solid record, the Miners finished third place in their region behind Northern Arizona and regional champion Arizona State.

In the regional final, they found themselves up against Arizona State—the only team that beat them all season long and quite frankly embarrassed them. During the game, the Arizona State players were taunting the players and showing no sportsmanship whatsoever, according to head coach Carlos Becerra.

Nevertheless, they came through with a 1-0 win over the Sun Devils and a spot in the national championships. With the 5-0 loss still fresh in the team’s memory, the win was nothing short of great.

“The loss to them this season at their place was embarrassing to say the least,” Becerra said “It was a learning experience for myself and the guys. But it felt good to comeback and beat them because they we’re laughing and making fun of us.”

Team-leading goal scorer Ivan Ortega, junior business major, came through with the game’s only goal, and with that goal, made history. The win over Arizona State was the first time the club team has ever won their region in back-to-back years.

“I think we’re in a really good place right now,” Ortega said. “We qualified for nationals last year and doing that again has given a boost to
our morale.”

Last year, the national championships, hosted in Tempe, Arizona, were cancelled after the group stage because of a flooding at the soccer complex. This year, the stage is set in Memphis, where the team has their hands full with two-time regional champions Ohio State and the University of Virginia.

“Our expectation is to win the whole thing,” Ortega said. “I think for now our focus is on the group stage, which I think we will have a big part in, to win the group. From there it will just be whoever wants it more.”

In total, the NIRSA National Championships consist of 24 teams from six regions. The 24 teams are split into eight groups of three, and the top two teams from each group advance to the knockout stage of the tournament. For the Miners to advance will be a tall task, but coach Becerra believes his team is ready for the moment.

“I expect them to do well,” Becerra said. “I think the style of soccer that we’re playing is different from most of the teams we’re going to encounter over there. It is going to be a little faster and physical, but I think we’re prepared for that and we’re really good at adjusting throughout the game to exploit the opponents’ weaknesses.”

The Miners’ biggest advantage over this year’s competition in Memphis is experience. Most of the players on the team are from last year, and many of them have a clear memory of what it is like to compete on a national level.

“I think the experience from them being there last year is big,” Ortega said. “Already being there once will make it more and more comfortable for us to perform even better.”

Javier Cortez may be reached at [email protected]

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About the Contributor
Javier Cortez
Javier Cortez, Staff Reporter
Javier Cortez is a staff reporter for The Prospector. He is a senior multimedia journalism major, with a minor in English Rhetoric. Javier was born and raised in El Paso, TX and before coming to UTEP in the summer of 2012, he graduated from Irvin High School, where he was a four-year varsity tennis player, a member of student council and a class officer for his graduating class. He has also worked for the El Paso Diablos as a sports information intern on their media relations team. In his spare time, Javier loves to write columns for the perspectives section in the school newspaper—whether it is sports, pop culture, religion, and society he loves to write about it. To go along with writing, Javier loves reading anything about sports, religion, and non-fiction.
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Men’s club soccer ready for another crack at Nationals