Senior labors for strong finish in Florida
Taxed early for maxed returns late
Capt. Cabrera leads ‘Cats near his Tampa home
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- With his soccer teammates a 'far trek' from home, Captain Sam Cabrera will be as comfortable as a goose down pillow. The native of Tampa, Florida will be enjoying a homecoming of sorts.
Southwestern Assemblies of God University has traveled to the Orlando suburb of Kissimmee for this week’s national championships with the National Christian College Athletic Association. Eight teams are competing, including SAGU, beginning November 30. Each will be guaranteed three-games, which will be played at the Austin-Tindall Soccer Complex.
The Lions enjoyed their first-ever winning season this year at 10-7-4. Three coaches in three years have helped assemble a skilled roster that began to mesh this fall. Normally the turnover in both leadership and players has a different effect. But this cast of players is anything but normal.
Cabrera, a 6-foot-2 senior who graduated from Tampa Baptist High School and attended Hillsborough Community College, has been a steady figure on the team for four years. His insights on the development of the men’s team were evident as the team prepared for Orlando, which is 45 miles northeast of Tampa Bay.
“The new guys have really impressed me,” he said. “Plus, the entire team has shown improvement since 'day one' this summer.”
“With only seven or eight players back from a year ago,” he continued, “I admit, I was skeptical. I knew the only way we’d mature as a team would be through hard practices. Tough practices would be the only way we could mesh together as a team.”
SAGU had their share of growing pains, for sure. They showed flashes of excellent play, but becoming consistent was the goal of new head coach Gerald Nichols, Jr. The Lions lost several late leads against teams that had held a mastery over the Purple Pride.
“We struggled to form team chemistry,” Cabrera added. “But then our identity started to rise. We began to believe that 'we achieve more as a group' than we had shown.”
“There was a point when we started showing our ability to play quality soccer. Still, we were playing conference teams that were ranked nationally, and we couldn’t finish some games that we could’ve won. Sure, these same teams would crush us in prior years, but a loss is a loss, regardless.”
“That led to some frustrations we had to work through,” Cabrera pointed out. “I felt that we were aware of our potential skill level, so the game results were naturally not satisfying.”
SAGU had defeated Texas College, 5-2, to up their record to 6-3-2. Then they went 0-3-2 and were outscored 11-5 in the process.
Behind the stable hand of Coach Nichols, the team maintained their resolve and their focus.
The team’s best man-on-man defender, Cabrera brings size, finesse and tenacity to the team’s last line of defense. Teamed-up with fellow senior David A. Flores (San Miguel, El Salv., Farmers Branch, Tx/ RL Turner HS), a very physical defenseman, SAGU has two dependable players who do not back down.
“I had my doubts entering the central regional,” said Cabrera. “Being successful in the post-season was in question, but we continued to work hard.”
“Well, all of the hard work paid off! The first victory (2-1 over Southwestern Christian University, Okla) gained us the confidence we needed. From that moment, I have never seen our boys play with so much assurance and valor!”
Cabrera (Cah-BRAIR-uh) was quick to mention that it was much more than a few players who stepped up their performance. He praised the play of key substitutes who contributed when they got the chance.
“The entire team had three incredible games! Our subs were equally important in the success of this tournament,” he said.
SAGU controlled a feisty SWCU team until the Eagles tied the score in the final 12 minutes. Rather than allowing the game to get away from them, the Lions reapplied pressure.
Danny Martinez (Houston, Tx / Cypress Creek HS) was fouled in the box, resulting in a penalty kick. 31-year old Alex Vazquez (Mexico City, Mexico; Midwestern State Univ) booted in his fifth PK in as many tries for a 2-1 win.
Martinez scored a pair of goals and Cesar Galvan (Allen, Tx / Lovejoy HS) pitched a 2-0 shutout of #2 seeded Mid-America Christian University (Okla) the following day in the semi-finals.
Freshman Parker Sturgeon (Bartlesville, Ok; Bartlesville HS) blasted the first and the fifth goals during a stunning 5-1 rout of #1 seed, Central Baptist College (Ark), in the final.
Southwestern had gone 0-2-1 against SWCU, MACU and CBC earlier in the season.
Cabrera made a point to add another aspect of the team’s unity.
“I have never seen the boys this spiritually connected,” his effervescent smile as obvious as the noon day sun. “We've always been a close family, but God is continuing to work in the lives of each of our players while bringing us victories. God deserves all this credit, and so does the entire men’s soccer team for putting in the hard work daily to get this far.”
“God can give us the talent, but if we misuse it or don't make the best of what he lavishes on us, it will go to waste. We definitely maximized what God has gifted us with!”
As for the three matches in three days, he proclaimed: “I'm excited for this opportunity at the national tournament. I can hardly wait to be more victorious. It does not stop here. We have three games to go and we're on fire right now!”
The Lions go up against the NCCAA’s #1 seed, California Baptist University, on Wednesday at 5:00pm (EST). All of their games will broadcast in HD over the internet. Win or lose, SAGU will play on both Thursday and Friday.
The NCCAA Finals will be played on Saturday, December 3.
Should SAGU advance to the championship, they could meet the defending Nat’l champions from Palm Beach Atlantic University (West Palm Beach, Fla) in the finals. The Sailfish have former SAGU head coach Aaron DeLoach as an assistant coach this year.