Written by Julia Fischer for CUWFalcons.com
Coming across the country to a new school and playing a college sport can be a hard process. Adjusting to your new studies and practice schedules can be a lot to handle. Although the accommodations can take a little while to get used to, having friends can make a huge difference. That is certainly the case for three Concordia University Wisconsin Men's Soccer players during the 2016 season.
Freshmen Julian Esparza (Chandler, Ariz.), Patricio Martinez (Scottsdale, Ariz.) and Connor McLane (Scottsdale, Ariz.), who have known each other from there prep and club playing days in Arizona, decided to continue their soccer careers together here through the CUW Soccer program.
"Connor and I went to the same high school," Martinez said. "We met Julian through club soccer, so we've all been playing with each other for years."
The club soccer experience helped the friendship grow for these three players. Esparza and Martinez even visited CUW together, and soon after decided they wanted to join the Falcons soccer program.
"Pat and I visited Concordia together," Esparza added. "We stayed with some of the soccer players on our visit and after that we decided we needed to commit."
McLane also decided to jump on board and join his friends in Mequon. For him the chance to experience something different was a big draw.
"Me personally I liked how different it was here," McLane. "I lived in Arizona all my life so it was nice to come here and experience something different. I also loved the guys on the team and the team itself was good so it seemed like a great opportunity."
Arizona doesn't have many options for smaller school when it also comes to playing college sports. The players knew they would likely need to travel to play at the collegiate level, and found a home in Mequon, Wisconsin to do just that.
From a recruiting standpoint, Head Coach Tom Saleska explained the process of selecting all these players from across the country. The Falcons recruiting was really widespread this past year, not only with the trio of Arizona freshmen, but also two players from New Mexico in Eduardo Ybarra and Nate Yeager. Add in sophomore Dagoberto Diaz from Oregon and you can see the Falcons roster comes from all across the United States.
"We travel to showcase events down south during the spring months," said Saleska about the Falcons recruiting efforts. "During these showcases some of the best teams from around the country play, so we get the chance to interact with the players and we try to build relationships with them so they consider playing for us."
Having such a big change can cause unanticipated complications, but the program, the coaches and the players make sure that whether you're from the neighboring community or you live across the country that you're welcome here at CUW.
"We know as a program, especially for incoming freshmen, that coming from out of state can be a difficult transition so we make sure that we accommodate to the players and make sure they feel welcome," Saleska said. "The first week of training camp is all about team activities. We have practice during the day and at night we have the players do team building activities to get to know one another."
Those team activities have helped with the transition for the Arizona players. So far, things have gone well in adjusting to life in the Midwest.
"The transition so far has been fairly easy," Martinez said. "It helps having these two- McLane and Esparza- here because we've all known each other for four years now."
Having each other has helped, but having a welcoming family that is the CUW Soccer program, both players and coaches, has certainly made the transition easier as well. It is easy to feel at home right away when playing for CUW.
"The guys on the team have made us feel very welcome here," McLane said. "Even though we've only been here a month, all of us are already a part of the Falcon family."
Esparza, Martinez, and McLane all had the opportunity to play together last Sunday in the match against St. Mary's where the Falcons won 2-1 in overtime. Each player has made an impact early in the season, each bringing a different skill set to the table for CUW.
"We've all been playing together for so long that it felt so natural to be back out there with the guys," said Esparza, a player who would later make his first career start this past week against St. Norbert. "It felt great being able to play with the upperclassmen and learn from them as well."
Esparza, Martinez and McLane have helped CUW get off to a 5-1-0 start this season, along with being ranked in last week's Top 25 poll, a first in program history for the Falcons. These three and the rest of the Falcons will be back in action Tuesday at Elmhurst.