By Lesly Velasco Guerra, Aug. 31, 2021

As athletic competitions on campus resume, the CPP men’s soccer team has initiated its season with the end goal to emerge champions at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament.

The team, led by head coach Matt O’ Sullivan, began officially practicing in early August. So far, they have already faced off against Mt. SAC, UC Irvine and Bethesda University in preseason friendlies.

“Just being back on the field is very exciting. It’s been a long time since the guys been on the field together, it’s been a long time since we’ve played our first games,” said Sullivan. “We just have to take every day one day at a time and be grateful that we’ve had the opportunity.”

During their last season, the team landed champions in the California Collegiate Athletic Association(CCAA) Tournament, second in the CCAA regular season, and participated in the NCAA tournament.

Out of the 32 men on the roster, Sullivan explained that seven players are new to the team this year and 14 players are returners who have not yet had the chance to play on the field. Many of the new players were recruited via video showcasing and some were seen by the coaches in early 2020, before COVID-19 hit.

The CPP men’s soccer team has welcomed 18 new players to the 2021-2022 roster. (Courtesy of CPP Athletics Department)

Sullivan added that many of the returning players weren’t expected to play due to ineligibility from having already graduated but were granted an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic.

“Because we knew they were leaving in the fall and we knew they were going to be done, I didn’t want to say no to some of these guys,” said Sullivan. “So, we got some of these recruits this year who we may not play as much because of the seniors, but they would be ready for the following year.”

While the NCAA requires student athletes to complete 24 semester credits in order to be eligible to play, student-athletes who could not play during the 2019-2020 season were able to regain the lost year regardless of the NCAA rule. Senior defender, Courtland Hawkins, seized the opportunity and is once again playing for the men’s team this fall after the pandemic abruptly ended his previous season.

“When COVID hit it was heartbreaking because I had no idea what was going to happen or if I was going to get a year back because I had been in school for a while now, so I wasn’t sure if I was still going to be able to play or not,” said Hawkins. “When the NCAA said you could still get your year back as long as you had classes to take, I was like, ‘perfect’. Got that all figured out and here I am.”

Despite the obstacles presented by the pause on play last year, the team remained connected throughout the pandemic. Zoom meetings were held regularly and not only revolved around soccer skills and techniques but leadership and teamwork were also points of discussion throughout remote learning.

Prior to official practices, captain-led practices were held in June. In July, the team practiced in a combination of volunteer sessions, where coaches were able to come out to practice with the players, and captain-led practices.

Captain and goalkeeper, Jordan Aldama, expressed that the separation brought the team together.

“There was a closeness with the group. Guys were always texting each other. On Facetime, they were talking about soccer, talking about tactics, talking about getting together and training,” said Aldama. “Of course, it started very disappointing but now the positive is that it has brought us together.”

The team huddled together to discuss game strategy during a 2019 game against CSUSB. (Courtesy of CPP Athletics Department)

Following COVID-19 preventative protocols and guidelines, spectators are allowed to be present during the 2021 CPP men’s soccer season at Kellogg Stadium. Prior to entering the stadium, a Guest Health Screener is required to be completed. While in the stadium, a mask mandate will be enforced for all in attendance.

CPP men’s soccer will begin its season on Thursday, Sept. 2, playing a home game against Concordia University.

“We’re very thankful and grateful that we’re back,” said Aldama. “We’re buzzing to be back in the locker room, to be back on the pitch, to be with our coaches, to be in the facilities, and we are going to do everything we can from the players’ side to ensure we have a season.”

The men’s soccer team game schedule for the upcoming season can be found on the CPP Athletics webpage.

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