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Saint Mary’s soccer captain earns academic honor

| Friday, January 17, 2014

The National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) recognized Saint Mary’s senior soccer captain Mollie Valencia with an honorable mention on the NSCAA College Division Women’s Scholar All-North/Central Region list.

Valencia was one of five student-athletes in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) to gain recognition and one of 40 midfielders to win an Honorable Mention, according to a College press release.

“I worked hard, and it was more of an academic award than an athletic award,” Valencia said.

Valencia, who is studying accounting, said she reacted to the honor with disbelief.

“I was little bit surprised, just because there was so many people [in consideration],” she said. “My coach didn’t tell me he nominated me until later on.”

Potential honorees must be nominated by an institution that is a current NSCAA College Services member. They also must be juniors or above in academic standing at their colleges or universities, Valencia said. She said they must also have started more than 50 percent of all games while contributing significantly to the team.

“On the field I am a central midfielder, which means that I am involved in almost every play,” Valencia said. “Being the captain, I feel it is my responsibility to the lead the team, so I try to be a role model through my work ethic both on and off the field.

“I am not a loud or boisterous leader. I like to say that I lead by example.”

Valencia said she developed her leadership skills through her four years playing soccer for the Belles.

“My experience on the team has led me to be more assertive, which is an important quality of a leader,” she said. “I realize that setting a good example is imperative to my role as a leader on the team.”

Saint Mary’s soccer coach Michael Joyce nominated Valencia based on NSCAA standards that require candidates to maintain at least a 3.3 cumulative grade-point average on a 4.0 scale throughout his or her athletic career, Valencia said.

While rewards extend beyond the field, Valencia said she acknowledges the amount of hard work and dedication she and her fellow teammates must commit to the sport they have loved and played since their youth.

“It’s really time-consuming,” Valencia said. “During the fall, it’s really hard to keep up academics, keep up your athletics and still have a social life because we are Division III, and none of us are on scholarships.

“We’re all just doing this because we love the game. I think that’s very different than Division I or Division II, which they’re basically getting paid to play soccer, but we basically put in the same amount of time as them.”

Valencia said she credits her success to Joyce, who began his coaching career at Saint Mary’s the same season Valencia first became a Belle.

“This is his fourth year here,” she said. “I like him as a coach. He’s a little bit quieter, but he knows what he’s talking about, and he’s always open to telling his players how they can improve.”

Valencia said Joyce’s encouragement had a particularly positive impact on his team this season.

“I feel like the past season was the best season for me, because I felt like we were really a team,” Valencia said. “Not just on the field. Off the field we would do a lot of team stuff together, and I’ve seen that in past seasons, but I think this season more than ever.”

Though Valencia said recognition by the NSCAA is a wonderful tribute to her achievements in academics and athletics, she believes the greatest reward from her four years as a student athlete is her experience as a team leader.

“I think anytime you’re the captain of a 27-person team, your leadership skills are going to develop,” she said. “I feel I’ve just been given responsibilities that have put me in the position to develop my leadership skills.

“I have learned so many life lessons that I think will apply to life after college in the workforce.  I have developed very good time management skills as a result of being a student athlete.”

Valencia said her team won only three games during her freshman year but now competes and often wins against some of the top teams in its conference.

“I have watched the soccer program grow and I am proud to say I have played a small role in that growth,” she said. “I am proud to say that I am a soccer Belle.”

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