Two local soccer athletes will be playing Division I soccer for the upcoming fall after each received athletic scholarships from the same university.
Former Hilmar and Pitman athletes Jaimee Rocha and Marissa Rouse will be attending Tennessee Tech University for the upcoming school year as transfers from Modesto Junior College.
While at MJC, both Rocha and Rouse were key contributors in the midfield to a team that set a school record for wins with a record of 20-2-2 along with their first ever Big 8 Championship.
“They [Rocha and Rouse] were focal points in the middle of the field,” said MJC women's soccer head coach Steve Aristotelous. “Barring injuries here and there, they started every match, and were needed for our run. [It's] going to be tough to replace them."
Not only did the team amass a school record in winning percentage but they also ended the season ranked 10th in the nation for junior colleges, according to nscaa.com.
“I am proud of them for several reasons,” said Aristotelous of the two transfers. “They are transferring after a year and a half, meaning they really have done well in school, and were qualifiers out of high school; so they handle their scholastic business. Secondly, they are willing to step out of their comfort zones by traveling to another part of the country.”
While Rouse was more of an attacking midfield player for most of the year, Rocha served her role as a defensive midfield player for the season.
The team record for the MJC women's soccer team the past two seasons was 30-9-7.
“The team doing as well as we did was definitely a team effort,” said Rocha. “We were all equally as important and worked extremely well together. We were a family and we were all striving towards the same goal and I believe that's why we went so far.”
Rocha, who is one of the best soccer players to come out of Hilmar, started her collegiate career as an unknown. Near the end of her senior year no college offers were given, not even any looks.
Rocha had set her mind on attending Cal State Stanislaus and hanging her cleats with the Warriors, but there was only one coach who showed interest—Aristotelous.
“Jaimee is an interesting kid because rarely do you see someone with no club experience play at the collegiate level,” said Aristotelous. “She played with her older brothers growing up, so that obviously has helped her game. So to jump from no club, to JC, to Division I is pretty remarkable. I wish I would've known about her when she was a youth because she would've be an asset on my club team.”
“It was a dream of mine to continue playing at the collegiate level,” said Rocha. “But towards the end of the season no one contacted me so I just faced the facts that it was going to be the end until coach Aristotelous approached me during a tournament and asked for me to play and right then and there I decided on going to play at MJC.”
Rouse's route was a bit different. After joining Aristotelous' club team her sophomore year at Pitman High, she tore her ACL and sat out her entire junior season, which is the most crucial time for recruiting.
“My injury was an absolute nightmare,” Rouse said. “My rehab was intense because my goal forever, since I was little and watching the US women's national team, was to get picked up by a college team and with this setback I trained even harder and would train and practice twice sometimes even three times a day.”
When Rouse returned she was confined to a brace and had been out of training mode for about a year, which hurt her recruiting stock.
“She is a very hard worker like Rocha, does all the off-season training and understands the commitment level on the field and in the classroom,” Aristotelous said of Rouse. “I am very proud of the two for reaching very high goals, there aren't a lot of soccer players in the area that are on scholarship to the Division I level.”
“I don't know how to explain it, but there is just something about when I lace up my shoes and put on that jersey with the number on my back that I feel as if this is what I was meant to do,” Rouse added. “This is where I belong.”
Both Rocha and Rouse will leave for Tennessee Tech on Jan. 14 to begin spring conditioning and the season will officially start in the fall.
“Emotionally, I felt scared even now I still do, but I couldn't be happier. It's still hard to believe that this huge opportunity is happening to me,” Rocha added. “This was my dream come true, going Division I on a scholarship is something I would have never in a million years thought would happen to me.”