YUMA, Ariz. – Graduation has passed, and the Arizona Western College men’s soccer team will send eight players on to their next step both academically and athletically next fall. Kacey Smith (Arizona Christian University), Jafet Sanchez (UC-San Diego), Eddie Banuelos (Northwest Nazarene University), Archie Gurrola (Benedictine University), Jerry Juarez (Ottawa University-Surprise), Carlos Lopez (Ottawa University-Surprise), Jose Alberto “Beto” Garcia (Ottawa University-Surprise), and Juan Arango (Bethany College) are headed all across the country.
“Here at Arizona Western College men’s soccer, our proudest tradition is moving players on to the next level,” said AWC head coach Kenny Dale. “This year is no exception. It is always rewarding when young men are able to move through our program and earn scholarships at the four year level. These young men are our latest high performers in the classroom, on the field and in the community.”
Smith was a team captain and All-Arizona Community College Athletic Conference First Team member, and he anchored a stout Matador defense. In the 17 games (he was an emergency goalie in the 18th game he played), AWC allowed a measly 0.88 goals per game. The sophomore added two goals and won seemingly every ball that was in the air. He heads to an Arizona Christian program that went 9-9-1 last season before falling in the Golden State Athletic Conference playoffs. ACU is an NAIA school.
Sanchez was also named to the All-ACCAC First Team after playing a pivotal role in the Matador offensive attack during the year. He helped facilitate a diverse attack with a team-best nine assists as the Mats had 13 players score a goal. Sanchez added four goals in 20 games. UC-San Diego went 10-2-5 overall before falling in the California Collegiate Athletic Association tournament. UCSD plays at the NCAA Division II level.
Banuelos, a team captain, was a flexible player that spent time both on the wing and in combination with Gurrola in the back. The Gila Ridge product had one goal and one assist while starting all 22 games for the Mats. He was also named to the United Soccer Coaches Junior College Men’s Scholar All-America Second Team for his work on the field and in the classroom. Northwest Nazarene (Idaho) went 8-6-3 last season and plays in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference as an NCAA Division II school.
Gurrola worked seamlessly with Banuelos on the left side as a defender/midfielder. The versatile sophomore was a fixture in the starting lineup for all 22 games. The San Luis graduate also had two assists in addition to his tight defense. He is headed to a Benedictine team (based in Phoenix) that went 14-6 last year and competes at the NCAA Division III level.
Arango closed the season strong for Arizona Western with four goals in the final five matches. He totaled eight goals and six assists on the season, and he helped the Mats close the regular season with a 2-0 win over Pima where he scored one goal and assisted on the other. Arango is headed to a Bethany College in Kansas that went 6-12-1 last year.
Garcia also served as a team captain and set the example with his dogged determination on the field. He had four goals and three assists in his sophomore season. The Cibola graduate is headed to Ottawa University in Kansas. Ottawa University is an NAIA school.
Lopez, also a Cibola grad, is headed to Ottawa University in Surprise after playing in the midfield for the Mats. On the wing, he had four assists in 20 games for AWC and helped keep the pressure on.
Juarez is also a Cibola grad and will join Lopez at Ottawa University in Surprise.
The Mats went 13-5-4 and made it to the Region I Playoffs for the 10th straight season. AWC took out Chandler-Gilbert in a shootout before falling to Pima 1-0 in a tight match on the road.
Arizona Western College is one of the top community colleges in Arizona. The college boasts partnerships with all three state universities that include face-to-face classes in Yuma. AWC leads the state in enrollment growth over the past 10 years and handed out more than 2,300 certificates and degrees in 2016-17.