Former area soccer players dream big at Wyoming JUCO

Laramie school littered with seven former BoCoPreps area athletes

Not all standout athletes receive the star treatment in the high school-to-college recruiting process. Some are missed, while others — for various reasons — are skipped over.

In the shadow of Wyoming’s lone university, however, a group of top-level area soccer players who graduated without eclectic interest from big-time programs continue to strive for a dream destination.

In the fall, seven former players played for The Equality State’s prestigious JUCO soccer program at Laramie County Community College. The hope for many of them is to warrant enough attraction to get picked up by a four-year program.

Of them, four players were from Niwot in Manny Tapia, Jonathan Jimenez-Flores, Jason Rodriguez and Mario Munoz. Two came from Boulder in Omar Castruita and Abe Lopez, and Cameron Broadhurst went to Broomfield.

“They come here from all facets,” said Vince Gibson, the school’s men’s soccer coach who has built quite a roster on the strength of players from the Boulder area. “We’ll get them because academically they didn’t make it. Some played in super small markets. Some played high school and not club. They come from all walks of life.”

For most, the junior college path is a stepping stone for students and athletes alike.

Students can acquire an associate degree after two years, while JUCO athletes are able to position their talents for interested four-year programs.

Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer
Niwot graduates Jonathan Jimenez-Flores, left, and Manny Tapia, center, have added to the depth of the soccer team at Laramie County Community College in Wyoming.

“It’s like coming out of high school — it’s recruitment again,” said Castruita, who left Boulder last summer as perhaps its most decorated player in program history. “You got schools looking at you, and usually the top programs from junior colleges that I know of, most of the players go D-I.”

Broadhurst, a 2018 graduate from Broomfield, for instance, should have plenty of opportunity after piecing together a savvy resume in his two years with the Golden Eagles.

In the fall, the defensive midfielder was named to the United Soccer Coaches All-American team after leading LCCC to a second straight Region IX title and a trip to the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament semifinals. He was joined in honors by Castruita, who was named the region’s freshman of the year and a USC All-American, second-team player.

Since then, Broadhurst said he’s been in contact with a number of schools vying for his services.

“I’m just looking for the best fit now,” he said. “Just wherever I’m happiest.”

His story is what LCCC sells. The soccer program — a hopeful layover to something bigger — doesn’t pretend to be something else. Gibson, in his 12th year, knows his role is temporary.

When asked about coaching a team full of players with their eyes on the next step, Gibson was clear that his worth doesn’t come from wins and losses. He referred to himself as more of a guiding hand than anything.

“I meet with these young men every week and we talk about three things — we talk about family, we talk about school and we talk about soccer,” Gibson said. “It takes about 30 minutes, but it gives me an idea of who they are and what they want to do.”

These days, Lopez, a 2017 graduate from Boulder, talks about a future in soccer and graphic design.

Out of high school, Lopez said he wasn’t ready the first time when Gibson offered him a spot on the team. Instead, he worked in landscape and played competitive soccer on the side.

One gap year turned into two, though — finally, Lopez talked with Gibson and decided to give community college a go when he signed his letter of intent alongside Castruita, his second cousin.

He tallied 11 points during his first season.

“It worked out,” Lopez said. “It’s all good now.”

The Golden Eagles, with 13 players coming out of Colorado, proved to have a strong connection in 2019.

They went undefeated in their region and 16-5-1 overall, outscoring teams 78-32. Eventually, they lost in the tournament semifinals to Eastern Florida State.

“During the beginning of the season we hit a rough stretch, but got better during the middle and near the end of the season,” Tapia said. “We knew we could do a lot of good things and got together and did so.”

Tapia along with Grandview grad Noe Ortiz-Pena and Castruita led the team with 32 points.

Broomfield’s Broadhurst, the one-time rival of Boulder’s Castruita and Lopez, meanwhile, worked seamlessly with the two freshmen to create one of the JUCO’s strongest midfields. Back in 2016, all three players had a role in perhaps the greatest state soccer finale in Colorado prep annals. Led in part by Castruita and Lopez, Boulder finally capped off its 20-0 season by beating Broomfield after 14 rounds of state penalty kicks.

Broadhurst, Castruita and Lopez can joke about it now.

“It was pretty funny at the beginning of the year — like, uhh, we used to be rivals and now we are supposed to team up and be brothers,” Broadhurst said. “But it was great, honestly, and it was a great season. It was a lot of fun with those guys.”

As for Tapia and the other former Cougars in Munoz, Jimenez-Flores and Rodriguez — Gibson said they may have been the biggest surprise in 2019.

“Colorado has great soccer kids,” Gibson said. “The Boulder kids really helped out. And I want to say those Longmont kids, the ones that played at Niwot, a lot of them were not on scholarship and they came out, gave us some added depth, made a name for themselves and earned scholarships.”

In high school, all of the LCCC area players received accolades.

Castruita was an All-American at Boulder and a player of the year in 2017. Lopez, another Panthers’ standout, tallied 25 points in 2016 and scored two shootout goals in the state title game.

At Broomfield, Broadhurst was the anchor to the 2017 state championship team and was a back-to-back member of the all-region team. Tapia, Jimenez-Flores, Rodriguez and Munoz, meanwhile, were key contributors when Niwot went to the 2017 state semifinals. Munoz was also an all-region goalkeeper selection in 2018.