Home-grown talent creates bond
Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05
A dominating force on the field, the UTEP soccer team has made a name for itself in Conference USA over the years. While most of the team’s talent comes from out of town, more and more El Paso players are finding themselves sporting a UTEP soccer jersey and leading the team to success.
The latest El Paso natives to be selected to join the Miner family are junior midfielder, Gina Soto who graduated from Coronado, and sophomore forward, Stephanie Sazo, who graduated from Montwood High School.
Playing since she was 6 years old, Soto was introduced to soccer by her parents, who both played the sport.
Now she sees her teammates as an extension of her family and her motivation to constantly play her best.
“I love that you have so many sisters on the team. We really are a family,” Soto said. “When you are playing, you are not only playing for yourself but for your sisters, so that’s all that I concentrate on during the game. I want to play my heart out for my team and do them justice.”
A starting midfielder since she played at the high school level, Soto is now a starter for UTEP, and is crucial to the Miners’ speed, pushing each minute of the 90-minute games and always finding a way to get the ball past her opponents.
“Gina Soto is one of the quickest dribblers we have ever seen,” head coach, Kevin Cross said. “We kid with her and call her the Lionel Messi (Argentinian soccer superstar) of UTEP soccer because she can do little moves around opponents and just has awesome natural ability.”
For Sazo, her soccer career started when her older sisters began playing for their high school team and she would follow them around as their ball keeper. Following in her sisters footsteps, Sazo became one of Montwood’s most talented soccer players, where she played four years at the varsity level and was a 1-5A All District Player and the All City Offensive Player of the Year in 2010.
An exceptional player at the high school level, Sazo knew she wanted to play soccer at the college level and UTEP was the team she wanted to sign with.
“I knew I wanted to play for UTEP no matter what, whether it had been through a scholarship or me walking on the team,” Sazo said. “My heart was set on UTEP not only because it was an excellent program, but because it would allow my family and friends to come out and watch me play and that was and still is really important to me.”
With consistent dedication to the game and natural aggressiveness, Sazo caught the attention of coach Cross her senior year.
“She would put two to three goals in the back of the net every time we watched her play for Montwood,” Cross said. “She would just attack the ball and blaze past her competition.”
Cross is impressed with the talent El Paso offers and expects more local high school players to be recruited for the Miners and add to the team’s history of success.
“We love El Paso, and it has been a big part of this program,” Cross said. “We are bringing more El Paso players in the future. Some of our best players have been from right here in El Paso. This city is a big part of this program and hopefully our relationship only continues to grow stronger.”
Audrey Westcott may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.