Tigers take inspiration from community

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE - The Marshalltown Community College men’s soccer team celebrates with its NJCAA Division I Region XI Championship trophy after advancing to within one win of nationals with a 1-0 overtime victory against Iowa Lakes on Oct. 27 in Marshalltown.

Of the 27 players on the Marshalltown Community College men’s soccer team who are preparing for the Tigers’ first trip to the NJCAA Division-I National Championship since 2012, 26 aren’t from the continental United States.

MCC players represent eight different countries across four continents, the bulk of which come from Brazil, Japan and Spain, but one thing connects all these athletes who are otherwise separated by multiple barriers: the Marshalltown community.

Tiger head coach Rafael Martinez said representing the community is always a big point of emphasis when preparing for an upcoming season, but that went double this year after an EF-3 tornado tore through town on July 19.

“We often talk about the Marshalltown way, especially this year after the tornado,” Martinez said. “We talked about how many people in this community had to go through some huge challenges and they still needed to wake up the next day, go to work and get things done and take care of their families and take care of what they needed to each day. We are no different, obviously our challenges are completely different than what those families are facing, but the idea is the same. You still have to go through that and work your way out of it and you sitting and waiting for it to happen isn’t going to make it happen.”

MCC has taken that inspiration and run with it, as its 18-1 record is tied for the most wins for the program since finishing third at the national tournament in 2007. The Tigers are currently No. 5 in the nation and enter the national tournament as the No. 4 seed. They’ve been ranked as high as No. 2 nationally.

After losing stalwarts from the program like All-American forward Kino Ryosuke and Eneko Lasheras, current Tiger sophomore Rafael Vacas said there weren’t a lot of people giving them a chance at making it as far as they have.

“Someone last year said with Kino Ryosuke and Eneko, who were really good players, when they left somebody said ‘maybe next year you’re going to lose in the semifinal or final and not qualify,'” Vacas said. “So now you can see we are going to nationals because we’ve worked every day. This is our first goal.”

Along with their work on the soccer pitch, MCC assistant coach and Marshalltown High School boys soccer head coach Chris Fuchsen said they’ve always made an effort to get the guys involved in youth soccer programs in the city, which helps give them even more of a relationship with the community they represent.

“We’ve been doing a program with the Cub Scouts for the last four years and we get to go out and interact with the schools, especially like Woodbury, the one that got devastated by the tornado,” Fuchsen said. “These kids get to grow up being coached by guys from all over the world, and to be able to see them now on the front page of the paper and saying, ‘hey, that guy coached me during the winter,’ that’s all part of it. We relate back to these guys that they used to be that age, and they see how special it is. Especially being in the middle of America, middle of Iowa, to have this experience is super special for the community.”

While doing those events and bonding with the locals, the players are able to come together and create bonds with each other as well, which sophomore Rafael Ramos said brings the entire team closer.

“This team I think is special, if you go to our locker room it’s very fun all the time,” Ramos said. “Guys are joking, Japanese guys are dancing to Brazilian music and you see our team is very wonderful together.”

Their relationships in the locker room play out on the pitch, as after nearly every goal the scorer goes running towards the sideline to celebrate with his teammates. While doing so they often sing what the players have dubbed the “Marshalltown Song” showing that they are proud to not just win for themselves, but also for their school and their community.

“We talk so much about Marshalltown and we show them the effects of the tornado and the devastation of the tornado and how it affected so many families, and I think they are so appreciative of the opportunity they have to be at a school that is supported by the community,” Martinez said. “Therefore they have the pride of representing the community and the community college. I have no doubt that they understand that there are so many people here supporting them in this community and this community is really making it possible for them to enjoy their time here. If we can give back a little bit by them enjoying our story and our success, then we feel like we have accomplished something big this year.”

Like many of his fellow sophomores, Leonardo Tomasi has been in town for some time now and feels a connection to his American home.

“It’s something really special to be a part of this moment,” the captain from Circiuma, Brazil, said. “I’ve been here four semesters so at the end of the day I was wanting something special. I want to put my name here, I want to leave a legacy because what they have done for my life has been amazing. It’s a special moment to share with my family, my teammates and my coaches. The community and everyone can know that we are going to do our best to leave our legacy this year.”

Fuchsen not only coaches at both the high school and at MCC, he is a native of Marshalltown and he said seeing the Tigers embrace the community and the people in turn supporting them brings joy to his heart.

“I always knew there was a place for this sport in this community, I grew up in a time in this community back when this sport wasn’t embraced and it was still kind of a shadow sport,” he said. “To have this happen right now, all the hard work we’ve been putting in for the last 10 years, you just hope and have to believe that the community is buying into it, that the kids are getting really excited and the parents will be excited to be involved in the sport and realize that you don’t have to travel very far to be a part of a high-level program.”

Now that the No. 5 Tigers will be representing Marshalltown on a national stage, starting with a Pool D matchup against No. 9 seed Cowley on Monday in Daytona, Fla., Marshalltown goalkeeper Joel Serrano said the guys will be carrying the flag for this community as far as they can.

“Our goal is to win nationals, we want to do what we can and put Marshalltown on the map,” he said.