Flagstaff United Soccer Team Sends 5 Seniors to College Soccer Programs | Local

ZACH BRADSHAW Special for the Daily Sun

After attending five college signing ceremonies this spring, Chad Schlenker is parting ways with five of his most talented athletes.

As coach of the Flagstaff United Soccer team, Schlenker was part of a team that awarded a total of seven high school seniors scholarships to play college-level soccer, five of which were accepted.

“It just shows the commitment,” said Schlenker. “Normally you might get one, but getting five shows the quality of the players that have gone through the program and just persevered.”

Lianna Albert, Alondra Carbajal, Mackenzie Cathey, Karina Fuhrmann and Mayrin Soto, who were integral to the club that won the 2021 state championship, will sign college offers that will take them to out-of-state colleges.

Each scholarship was awarded to players for both sporting and academic merit – known as “stack” scholarships. Schlenker praised the players for their commitment to top performances on and off the pitch.

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“If you’re an athlete and you just care about the sport, sometimes success doesn’t last unless you focus on the science,” Schlenker said. “It’s about your commitment not just to the sport, but to life, work and school.”

According to Schlenker, each of the players put a lot of effort into being talented on the field and in the classroom. This combination helped set players apart from colleges – as schools are often looking for versatile individuals.

Schlenker has coached the girls since they were part of Flagstaff United’s youth football program many years ago, so he’s been able to watch them grow and develop as players and as individuals.

“I’ve known most of the players in the club team since they were 6 and 7 years old,” said Schlenker. “Now I get pictures of them where the ball was about twice their size. It’s crazy.”

Players have shown immeasurable dedication to the program – which has helped him work on drills and teach the sport. Players understood what it took to beat an opposing team’s defensive system or stop a team’s top scorer.

“Commitment to the team is one thing, but knowledge of the sport is also important,” said Schlenker. “I think that weakened those players because they’ve worked hard and they’re on a scholarship now, so it’s paid off for them.”

Schlenker said he spoke to numerous college scouts who had their eyes on the five players. One scout in particular praised Schlenker for the knowledge his players showed during games.

“He told me they were really smart. He wasn’t just saying that to be nice; He said they really know the game,” said Schlenker. “He said even the current juniors and seniors in college didn’t get it. So these players are way ahead of the curve.”

Albert, a goalie, is signing with Adams State University in Colorado while Cathey, a forward, is signing with the College of Southern Nevada. Fuhrmann, a midfielder, signs with Bluefield State College in West Virginia.

Carbajal, a goaltender and defender, signs with Ottawa University in Kansas. A versatile player, Carbajal said the Flagstaff United Soccer program gave her the skills needed to hone her skills, which aided in her recruitment process.

“Coaches have always pushed me to be better, both as a student and as a person. I could always go to them and ask for advice and they were willing to give it,” Carbajal wrote in a text message. “They gave me the opportunity and support to grow and play competitively. I believe they got me to where I am today.”

Soto, a forward, signs with Webster University in Missouri. Soto suffered a cruciate ligament rupture that kept her on the bench for most of the 2022 season and there were times when Soto was so frustrated that she considered quitting football.

“She wanted to stop and I wouldn’t let her,” said Schlenker. “I would call her and tell her her goals are still achievable. You can’t give up because you’re feeling down. I told her she just had to find a way to make it work.”

“I wanted to quit because of my injury. It took a lot from me,” Soto wrote in a text message. “I didn’t stop because I love the sport so much and I knew I couldn’t let football take away from my injury.”

Soto said her coaches helped convince her to move on after the injury and keep playing in college. The coaches believed in her enough to help her through the injury and make her realize that she wanted to reach the next level in the game of football.

Schlenker’s coaching philosophy is that players don’t have to be perfect and that there is always room for mistakes and development.

“Perfection is really hard to achieve and everyone wants to be perfect, but we shouldn’t put too much pressure on anyone,” said Schlenker. “We will all make mistakes. So it’s the ones who overcome challenges and have a constant passion and love for the game that I hope to be able to implement.”

The style of training has proven successful for Flagstaff United as the team is widely regarded as one of football’s best player development programs in the state. Schlenker said the team averaged about a 70% win rate for the games they played this season and the season before.

But Schlenker had to make a difficult decision this season. Because the team consisted of seven seniors, many often took part in recruiting trips and couldn’t make it to practice or a game. Add to that two major injuries that starters picked up and the team often didn’t have enough players to attend games.

“We decided not to defend the title in 2021 because my goal was to make sure the players are healthy when they go to the college showcases,” Schlenker said. “That doesn’t change the fact that the team was really successful. They won their fair share of games.”

The team’s success speaks volumes for the culture of excellence at Flagstaff United.

“Flagstaff United tries to develop players into whole children in a fun way. Our philosophy is that you have to earn it,” said Schlenker. “We’re definitely at the forefront of getting kids into college through football and getting college scholarships and that’s why we say it’s the best football development.”

The five players are a prime example of the influence Flagstaff United have on their players. Although Schlenker says goodbye to them, he is proud of their achievements and excited to see what the future holds for them.

“As a coach, I just have so much love and admiration,” he said.

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