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Tigers’ tenacity pays dividends

October 29, 2012
By TYLER STRAND - T-R Sports Writer ( , Times-Republican

DES MOINES Rafael Martinez couldn't have penned it better himself.

Then again, maybe he'll own the movie rights if studios come calling.

Choosing an opportune time to score his first goal of the season, Andrew Valett outjumped a throng of players to head in the deciding score as the Marshalltown Community College men's soccer team (13-5-2) defeated No. 3 ranked Iowa Western 1-0 in the NJCAA Division XI championship at Cownie Soccer Complex Sunday.

Article Photos

MCC goaltender Alfredo Piedra, left, shares a hug with Ralph Duopu after the Tigers claimed the NJCAA Division I Region XI title with a 1-0 triumph over No. 3 ranked Iowa Western at Cownie Soccer Complex in Des Moines Sunday.

Coming off a brilliant corner kick from Jose Damaceno in the 26th minute, Valett's header was one of patience, execution and a bit of foresight from Martinez.

Frustrated with his lack of offensive production after the team's season opening tournament in Minneapolis, Valett got some prudent assurance from his coach.

"I told Andy we just need to you to score one goal, the one in the championship game.

Just like a movie, as if it was in the script, he scored a goal," said Martinez.

"I was so happy for him because he suffered a lot. He's been hard on himself and it's been tough."

Valett was ready and waiting for the opportunity.

"Javier (Lopez) told me to go front post. I just met the ball and attacked it, like we've been practicing. It all worked out," said Valett.

The Tigers advance to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament in Albany, Georgia. It's MCC's first appearance in the tourney since 2007 when the Tigers finished third.

The previously undefeated Reivers (17-1-1) nearly retaliated with the equalizer four minutes later as Olivier Rolland powered a header into the net off a free kick that was waved off for Rolland being offside.

The Tigers staved off a few more scoring chances from the Reivers before creating a couple corner kick opportunities right before intermission.

Clinging to their slim advantage at the half, Martinez reminded his squad about their previous meeting with the Reivers a 3-2 home loss Oct. 7 in which the Tigers held a similar 1-0 lead in the early going.

"It's happened before, but it's not going to happen today. Believe in yourself because you've earned it," Martinez implored his players on the bench.

Crowding the middle of the field and keeping the ball outside, the Tigers did their part to move Iowa Western out of its comfort zone in the second half but the Reivers still created several chances firing five off their eight shots on goal in the final stanza.

Iowa Western held an 8-2 edge in shots on goal and an 8-4 advantage in corner kicks with seven coming in the second frame.

Alfredo Piedra was masterful in goal tipping away a Reiver header in the 60th minute, and a shot off a cross in the 65th, before making a series of stops in the final 10 minutes.

Iowa Western lifted a free kick over MCC's wall in the 81st minute, but once again, Piedra was in position.

"Our goalkeepers help each other incredibly in practice. They continually push each other. Alfredo wouldn't be able to do what he did today without Juan (Castrejon)," said Martinez.

The Reivers made one final surge pulling their goalie in the 90th minute, but the Tiger defense held strong. Piedra finished with eight saves as the Tigers were the first team to shutout Iowa Western all season.

"At the end of the day, in the last 45 minutes, we knew it was going to take courage and effort. We knew we were going to suffer," said Martinez.

"I really appreciate the value of believing in something because they really believed today. To me that's clearly what fueled the victory - the belief and the desire to accomplish something together. That's something they can use the rest of their lives and I hope they'll remember that."

That level of trust in the system and belief in one another has been a key to the Tigers' resurgence after season-ending sanctions sacked the team in 2008 and 2009.

MCC was forced to forfeit all games played in the 2009 campaign and held out of the NJCAA Region XI Tournament both that year and in the 2010 campaign. In 2008, the third ranked Tigers ended their season early due to recruiting violations.

Those struggles made Sunday's title victory that much more satisfying and a rewarding destination for a rebuilding project that's been in work for years since Martinez took the helm in 2010.

"Starting with the administration, their trust in me was important. They allowed me to start the program from scratch and were very supportive," said Martinez.

Recruiting more players from Iowa and finding more quality student athletes for the program, Martinez worked hard to find personnel willing to believe in the process, knowing ahead of time that postseason play not possible in their first year.

"They knew in that first year that they couldn't play (in the postseason) but they trusted us in hopes for their second year," said Martinez.

That circumstance made last year's 2011 NJCAA Region XI first round exit against Dakota Technical College that much more crushing.

"That loss was disappointing and depressing. I felt bad for the players who had put in two years for the playoffs. I think of them right now," said Martinez.

Martinez already has received a flood of phone calls and messages from previous players as the Tigers made their run through the tournament.

"They're all part of it because the fact that we can enjoy this championship was only possible because those players trusted us to get this program going again. This is just the result of the work that they put in," said Martinez.

Just like Sunday's defensive stand or the rebuilding effort of the previous three seasons, what lies ahead for the Tigers is another opportunity to believe in the system and one another and let the rest take care of itself.

"We've had a system, a goal and a process to complete that goal," said Martinez.

"It was a challenge but nothing we couldn't overcome through hard work."



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