By BRETT MARSHALL
On Friday morning, five Garden City High School girls' soccer players made it official that they will be moving on to play at the collegiate level in 2014.
Led by 2013 All-Western Athletic Conference selection Maria Rodriguez, the Lady Buffs will all be headed out of town to continue playing, and all will be playing at the community college level.
Rodriguez, and her older sister by 11 months, Evelyn, will be headed to Barton Community College in Great Bend. Lauren Walz is off to southeast Kansas and Coffeyville Community College, while Enneliese Alcantar will play at Hesston College and Cecilia Alvarez will compete for the Pratt Lady Beavers.
None chose to stay at home to play at Garden City Community College for new coach Charles Long. But they all cited other reasons for leaving town to pursue their dream of playing at the next level and continue their education.
For the Rodriguez sisters, it was a team recruiting effort and the Lady Cougars are getting two of the top Lady Buffs' players. Maria a defender, and Evelyn a mid-fielder, are off to play for one of the nationally-ranked programs and one of the strongest squads in Region VI.
"It's not too far from home, and we got along with their coach really well," Maria said of the recruiting process when they visited the Barton campus last fall. "I kinda wanted to stay here, but I think we both were unsure of what the program would be like. At Barton, we know what they've got. I do think coach (Long) has a lot of good ideas, and I think GCCC will be better down the road."
Evelyn echoed her younger sister's sentiments.
"We thought about it, and we love our hometown and would loved to have stayed," Evelyn said. "But I don't know what it will look like. I'm sure they'll be better as he has a lot of great ideas. But Barton just seemed like a good fit. The players, the coaches, the academics all felt right for us."
Evelyn plans to pursue a field of study in dentistry, while Maria is undecided.
Walz formally signed her Letter of Intent in December, but waited to make the announcement with her teammates.
The Lady Red Ravens of Coffeyville are coming off a 12-4-2 record in 2013 and are one of the strongest teams in the East Division of the Jayhawk Conference. That appealed to Walz, a center defender.
"I had wanted to go out of state, and even looked at a couple of D-II (NCAA) schools," Walz said. "It was a tough decision. They're pretty good and I think I'm the only Kansas player they recruited."
Walz said her area of intended study - equine therapy - made it difficult to choose where to go.
"I just wanted something different and away from Garden City," Walz said. "My decision had nothing to do with the new coach and the program at GCCC. It seems like he'll be a good coach but I had no desire to stay home."
For Alcantar, the visit to Hesston just seemed to have everything click, and when that happens, the decision seems just come naturally.
"Everything just seemed to work out for me when I visited Hesston," Alcantar said. "The team bonding, the school, the class sizes. It's a little bittersweet to know that I will be playing against some of my (current) teammates when we go to college."
Alcantar plans to pursue a degree in psychology. Alvarez' choice of Pratt also mirrored the process of her teammates.
"It's two and a half hours away and I can get home on weekends," Alvarez said. "I went down there twice to visit and the coach knows what he's doing, and the girls were friendly. It felt right. I thought about staying here, but I realized I wanted to be a little more independent now, and this gives me that chance."
Alvarez plans to pursue her education with an emphasis in nutrition and personal training.
For head coach Joaquin Padilla, it was a day to celebrate the success of the GCHS program.
"This is what we have had in mind from the moment we started soccer here at the high school," Padilla, the only coach for the Buffs' boys and girls programs. "I'm really glad they get a chance to go on and play. They all made their own choices. Some teenagers just simply want to get away. The program allows these young people a chance to see if they can play at the next level and to have a start to their education and have some of it paid for."