Pima soccer players take their skills to the next tier after a long season

 Story and photos by ARMANDO HARMON

Last year the Pima Community College men’s soccer team earned third place at the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I National Tournament, finishing with an overall record at 19-5-3.

Even though the season didn’t go as planned, there was two standout athletes that were able to continue excelling in the sport they love at the next level. Sophomores AJ Valenzuela and Julian Gaona will move on as they signed their letters of intent to four-year universities.

Aztec forever 

AJ Valenzuela, NJCAA All-American, will continue to be an Aztec but will play for another tribe in the fall: San Diego State University.

The Tucson-born Valenzuela, a general studies major, attended and graduated Desert View High School. He excelled in soccer his senior year and won awards in his division.

Valenzuela believed that Pima was the right school for him because of how it is close to home and his relationship with head coach David Cosgrove.

“I’ve known David since I was young,” Valenzuela said. “My mom’s father played with him back in the day.”

Falling short at the end was a bittersweet moment for the team and Valenzuela.

“What we accomplished this year was something big,” Valenzuela said. “Even though things didn’t go on how we planned, we sat back and saw what we achieved.”

Valenzuela has traveled to the university and fallen in love with everything from the coaches to the new facilities.

He values his education, which was another factor in signing with the university. He plans on continuing to do well in soccer and bring a degree back home to his family.

Soccer is very different from a junior college level to a four-year university. SDSU is a Division I school that plays in the Pac 12 conference.

AJ Valenzuela

“In the fall, I know it’s going to be hard for me,” Valenzuela said, “but this year was my year where I progressed as a player to see who I really am.”

Outside of the soccer world, Valenzuela enjoys spending time with his family, especially with his 2-year-old daughter.

“I have known AJ since he was 10,” Cosgrove said. “It is very rewarding to see all of his time and work being rewarded. He is a great example and raised his level to what Pima soccer expects from an All-American.”

The Playmaker 

Julian Gaona, a sophomore forward, is taking his talents to the next level.

Gaona, a Tucson native, went to Tucson High School. In high school, he was awarded Player of the Year from the Arizona Daily Star for the 2015-2016 year.

Julian Goana

A general studies major, Pima was the best choice for him and his family because it was the closest to home.

Gaona was named first team 2017 United Soccer Coaches All-American and was selected second team All-ACCAC/Region I. He played and started in 26 games and finished the season with 16 goals and eight assists.

“It was a good feeling, getting as far as we did,” Gaona said. “It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but it was fun.”

Gaona signed with Ottawa University-Arizona, and he will start his next chapter in the fall. Ottawa was the best place for Gaona because it was close to home and the best financially.

Making it to the Final Four in the postseason was the most memorable moment for Gaona.

“Julian worked very hard in the offseason, and he put himself in position to have a great year.” Cosgrove said. “He is one of the best goal-scorers Pima and Tucson has ever seen.”

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