By Andrew Hamad/COC Sports Information
For the first time in the history of the College of the Canyons men's soccer program, the Cougars were crowned champions of the Western State Conference, South Division.
It all came down to the final game as the Cougars traveled to Bakersfield College to play the final contest of the season, with a conference title on the line. COC had previously dropped a game against Bakersfield on Oct. 23, falling by a final score of 2-0, so this would prove to be no easy task.
Within the first 12 minutes of action, an opportunity to put a goal up on the scoreboard arose as sophomore Andres Lozano was fouled inside the box drawing a penalty. COC head coach Phil Marcelin called on sophomore Jorge Rojas to attempt the kick. Rojas was successful in his attempt, ultimately scoring the lone goal of the contest and giving COC the advantage through the end of play.
Most would call such a performance "clutch" but I wanted to see exactly what Rojas' thought process was both coming into the season and finishingwith a conference-clinching goal. I had the opportunity to sit down with him for an interview that covered everything from the importance of this season in terms of the program's history, to not snapping under pressure and everything in between.
Typically, there aren't many successful, if any, basketball players who stand at 5'8" and Rojas quickly realized that about 15 years ago. He stated that basketball was the first sport he ever truly played, but he knew he had no opportunity without a height advantage and decided to try soccer instead. Fair to assume the switch has been successful as Rojas impressed with his play throughout the entire 2018 season. The Cougars scored 36 goals on the season. Rojas was responsible for the nine that he scored, and played a role in four others while being credited with assists. That means Rojas was involved in more than a third of the team's scoring efforts.
He oddly attributed his success this season due to a sprained ankle.
"I've been playing with a sprained ankle the whole second part of the season and I think it has helped me more because I've scored more goals," said Rojas. His statement holds weight as the season consisted of 19 games, 10 of which were conference games. Conference records are much more important than the overall season record and those games typically have more pressure than others. Rojas managed at least one goal in seven of those 10 conference games played during the second half the season.
So far as pressure goes, it doesn't seem to bother Rojas, with the sophomore stating that he never feels the pressure and he credits that for his confidence on the field. That's not a cliché statement either, as he proved he would not succumb to the pressure of a penalty kick in the biggest game of the season.
Before games you can see Rojas sporting some over the ear headphones, typically listening to rap artist Travis Scott and getting ready to compete hard. Rojas took each game seriously as he said they were important stepping stones to achieve victory and carry on the Cougars' play into the postseason. The team had a shared objective and Rojas believes that his teammates have all worked hard to achieve that common goal.
After this season the team will see 17 sophomore players leave the program. Rojas is one of these sophomores that will be missed. Like others, his ultimate goal is to go professional. He hopes to transfer and play at a four-year school after his career at COC comes to an end.
Rojas also believes he will leave the Cougars in some good hands, as the freshmen players this year move on to their sophomore year next season.
"All of our players learned how much they had to bring to the table, and how much heart it takes to compete at this level," said Rojas. "That same tenacity and devotion will carry on into the following season. So even with 17 players leaving, the energy they brought should remain."
Rojas went on to comment that freshmen David Hernandez and Joshua Roque and a handful of others will be able to carry the team next season and hopefully transfer what they learned to the new class of incoming players.
Overall, he believes the season was not an embodiment of the team but COC in itself. Devotion and determination are characteristics of everyone at COC, from the students to the staff, not just the soccer team, and because they are part of the student body at COC they were able to capture success.
As Rojas moves on and continues his journey he will no doubt always remember the 2018 championship season. The first conference title in the program's history sets the bar for future teams to reach for and hopefully surpass.
Stay up to date on all this season's action by following the College of the Canyons Athletic department on social media at @COCathletics on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.
—Photo by Jacob Velarde/COC Sports Information