Many were dismayed in July 2018 after it was announced that the University of New Mexico’s nationally competitive collegiate soccer team was cut by the Board of Regents. However, that doesn’t mean that UNM’s legacy of men’s soccer has died out. After having come back from their fall regional tournament where they competed with nationally ranked teams, UNM men’s club soccer keeps the community and competitive spirit alive on campus.
Alex Hernandez started the team in 2019 while he was in grad school — he transitioned to coaching right after graduation and is now in his second year. The team has members ranging from freshmen to graduate students and players from around the world. They face teams from a variety of levels of play, from semipro to amateur leagues to other collegiate clubs.
“One of the big reasons why I came to UNM was just because there was a good soccer team here, a D1 team, and when they cut the team I was pretty sad about that … I did research and found out there’s a club competition that we can perform in and compete in … We got enough players to make a team, and little by little, we’ve been growing ever since,” Hernandez said.
Many of the players on the team had collegiate prospects or transferred from collegiate teams, but ended up at UNM for one reason or another, according to Kaidence Puckett, the team’s vice president.
“I was gonna go play collegiate ball with a lot of the guys and ended up here and was kind of bummed there was no soccer here, kind of bummed I didn’t go to go follow my dream, and then I ran into this little ad on Instagram that he had posted — Alex Hernandez — and I came out to tryouts and ever since then, just been playing here,” Puckett said.
Both Puckett and Hernandez said that one of the driving factors of the team is the large community and immediate bond created through working toward a common goal.
“Coming in as a freshman, obviously college can be kind of scary. I came in and had, immediately, 30 to 40 guys that I could just hang out with, count on, have my back. So, I think for a lot of us … besides playing soccer, we’re all just here trying to make better friends, make the college experience the most of it as we can,” Puckett said.
They just recently competed at Texas State University in the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association’s Region 4 tournament for the first time. They played against some of the best club teams in both the region and the nation, according to Hernandez.
Though they did not perform as well as they wanted, though, finishing in fourth place in their group. Puckett said that they are ready to start preparing for next year now that they know the level of competition. Now, their next big goal is to prepare for spring tournaments. As a veteran member of the team, Puckett hopes to carry on the team's legacy of success after his graduation.
“Hopefully, I can pass it on to the next person younger than me because he said we started this in 2019, and the goal is to, hopefully 20 years from now if there’s not another program — even if there is still another, like the varsity program, back, we’re hoping that I can still come back and there’s still boys at this field getting better,” Puckett said.
Puckett has found happiness outside of collegiate soccer through playing at UNM — he hopes to continue on as a coach along with obtaining a master’s degree, alongside continuing his current work at Sandia Laboratories.
“I mean, I’ve seen how a lot of coaches have formed my life and shaped who I am as a person who I am today more so than a lot of other people, so I hope I can continue to do that to other kids,” Puckett said.
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Though the team is still young, Hernandez has already been impressed by the growth in talent and the community around the team. He hopes that these things will continue to improve with each coming year.
“I see more talent every year, and this program keeps getting better. You know, I’m definitely learning as a coach too, because I haven’t been doing this for very long … but I’m willing to learn and guide these guys and whatever we can do to just be able to perform together and just get better everyday,” Hernandez said.
More information and upcoming events for UNM men’s club soccer can be found on their Instagram @unmclubsoccer.
Zara Roy is the copy chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle