Cesar Ruvalcaba (left) repeated as an All-American first team selection, while Paul Roger Henschke (center) and Melvyn Perez Cortez (right) each earned second team honors. | Courtesy of CPP Athletics

Trio of men’s soccer players repeat as All-American awardees

By Daniel Duque, March 12, 2024

Following the 2023 men’s soccer season, three players received United Soccer Coaches All-American awards for the second time in their careers as players for the Cal Poly Pomona Broncos.

The awardees, defender Cesar Ruvalcaba, forward Paul Roger Henschke and midfielder Melvyn Perez Cortez, are among the 12 players that have received the award during their CPP career, with 2024 being the ninth year in a row that at least one Bronco has received the honor. However, this year is the first time that three Broncos were awarded in the same year.

Cesar Ruvalcaba

Ruvalcaba became the first Bronco in the program’s history to earn an All-American First Team back-to-back following the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

During the previous season, the senior defender acted as team captain, starting in 20 out of the 21 games played by the Broncos, where he scored a total of three goals and provided four assists.

“It is eye-opening for myself; it feels great honestly,” said Ruvalcaba. “It just gives me more confidence and belief that I can achieve the goals I want to achieve, which is to end up playing professionally.”

Ruvalcaba added that the award comes as a result of hard work, dedication and the long hours of training invested toward the sport.

“It’s a great way to pay off all that debt,” said Ruvalcaba.

Coming from an American football family, a 4-year-old Ruvalcaba started as a soccer player after his aunt convinced his father to sign him up to play in the American Youth Soccer Organization, a non-profit league for young players between the ages of 4 and 19.

Shortly before competing at CPP, Broncos assistant coach Jose Ortega and former head coach Adam Reeves watched Ruvalcaba as he played for Downey High School and another club during his senior year, leading to his recruitment as a Bronco three months before his graduation.

“It was a little bit late in the recruitment process, but I ended up getting out to a great place,” said Ruvalcaba.

The previous season concluded with the Broncos’ elimination from the NCAA Division II tournament after a 1-0 defeat against the Cal State LA Golden Eagles in the third round.

Under coach O’Sullivan’s leadership, CPP registered better numbers than the 2022 season with 14 wins, five draws and only two losses.

Ruvalcaba reflected on the previous season by describing how the team worked together during each game to make it far during the tournament.

“When we had those games when we were close and ready to fight for each other, I would say that those were our best games,” said Ruvalcaba.

He continued, “players need to make plays. That’s another big thing that I would say that our program can probably improve on as a whole; we all needed to make a little bit more plays to help us get a little further.”

Paul Roger Henschke

Henschke, who earned a spot on the All-American Second Team, had been previously named Third Team following the 2021 season. The forward achieved 10 goals in his 21 games as a starter during the 2023 season becoming the third top scorer of the CCAA.

“It’s a good award. It shows me that all the hard work pays off because I won it the first year and then I went through a hard season,” said Henschke. “It’s good to have that kind of award, but at the end of the day it doesn’t make me better than other players.”

Before starting his career as a soccer player and while living in his home country of Germany, Henschke was a track and field athlete until he switched to soccer at the age of 5.

Henschke played at a highly competitive level in Germany, where earning a spot on a team was a big challenge.

“It was always like fighting for your spot and even if you liked your teammates, they were basically fighting for your spot,” said Henschke. “You couldn’t really be friends with them because at some point they would try to ‘hurt’ you because they were trying to get your spot in the team.”

Henschke stressed that his view changed during college as he began treating soccer as not about being competitive or being the best player but being a good teammate and friend within the squad.

“It’s always helpful when you are nice to people. You can’t always be a mean person and that’s why I was struggling in the beginning,” said Henschke. “I was trying to be better at it to have more connection to my teammates.”

During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Henschke got the offer to move to the United States and play collegiate soccer.

“I was very interested because I felt like America was a nice opportunity,” said Henschke. “I really wanted to do it because I played my whole life in Germany, and I felt like I needed a new challenge.”

Before joining the Broncos, Henschke was enrolled in Palm Beach Atlantic University in Miami and played for the team. However, he faced multiple challenges like the disapproval of his coach which made Henschke consider transferring to another school.

After looking through the transfer polls, Henschke was contacted by Cal Poly Pomona and, after talking to the coaches, he decided to make the switch and play for the Broncos.

Following a series of talks and paperwork, Henschke finally enrolled as a CPP student and a player for the Broncos.

“It was difficult, but because of the coaches who really wanted me and every single day they were talking to me, helping me and trying to make it happen, that’s when I knew it was the right move,” said Henschke.

Henschke gave his thoughts on the last season, referring to the good times he spent with the team but stressing his goal of winning a tournament with the Broncos.

“I’m leaving with a laughing eye and a crying eye because we did so much good stuff and we had such a good time; I really enjoyed my last season,” said Henschke. “My biggest goal was to win something with the team, that’s what made me really sad, but the pro was being healthy the whole season, being able to play every game and helping the team with goals and assists.”

Melvyn Perez Cortez

Perez Cortez repeated as an All-American Second Team, an award that he had previously received after the 2022 season. The midfielder concluded the 2023 season as a starter in 18 out of the 19 games he played throughout the semester in which he scored one goal and provided two assists.

“To be honest I was not expecting it,” said Perez Cortez. “It is a good feeling to get recognized not only by your coaches but from pretty much around the world and the nation.”

Cortez stated that he started playing soccer between the ages of 3 and 4 and has not stopped playing and “kicking that ball.”

In 2019, Perez Cortez was recruited by O’Sullivan and Ortega while he played for El Camino Community College. He talked about the challenges he faced while playing for CPP and stressed his difficulty in adapting.

“The difficulty was adapting to Matt’s (CPP head coach Matt O’Sullivan) style of play, just because it was something I wasn’t used to,” said Perez Cortez. “It was the first time being in a system where I had to adapt to another style of playing so I could get playing time.”

Perez Cortez continued, “At the beginning it was tough, not going to lie, but after that I started doing some homework outside the field and eventually, I got his trust pretty much.”

Cortez referred to the previous season by reflecting on the frequent changes that take place within the sport and the modifications that each team undergoes every year to improve their performances.

“Throughout the three years that I’ve been there, they (the seasons) have all been different,” said Perez Cortez. “You have schools that are getting better players each and every single year. They are not the same three years, completely different years, different teammates, I wouldn’t change anything for it.”

Feature image courtesy of CPP Athletics

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