Athlete of the year: soccer

The heart of the team

Alex Jimenez was the heart of the Central Panthers team this year in his work ethic and attitude toward the game.

Photo by Jennifer Biberston
Alex Jimenez was the heart of the Central Panthers team this year in his work ethic and attitude toward the game.

INDEPENDENCE — Alex Jimenez speaks for everyone on the Panthers’ soccer team when he says all they wanted this season was to make it to the state championship game, a goal that team hasn’t managed in more than 15 years.

“I feel like we just really wanted to prove everybody wrong,” Jimenez said. “And we really wanted to win it. All the seniors, we wanted it. It felt like it was our year. We believed we could go all that way, so we just never gave up.”

They came close, ending the season in the semifinals slot, one point away from going to the state championship game.

Jimenez was a big part of why the team had so much success this year, mostly because he’s the type of player who leads by example and puts his all into the game,” head coach Joe Orozco said. Even if there is only 18 seconds left of the semifinal game and the chances of your team getting another goal to tie the game is slim; it didn’t matter — Jimenez kept fighting, and encouraged the rest of his team to fight.

Those characteristics are why Orozco nominated Jimenez for the I-O’s 2018 athlete of the year for soccer.

“Alex is my choice of player of the year because he puts his heart into anything he does on and off the field,” Orozco said. “He works extremely hard in his practices and it shows when it comes to a game. He had some amazing saves when our keeper was beat. It will be a very difficult position to fill when he graduates. He is an excellent leader, well-respected, communicates well with his teammates, and he is very easy to coach. He volunteers daily to bring equipment out or put it away without being asked. He never argues any plays or setups and always gives his 110 percent.”

Although the Panthers lost 3-2 to La Salle in the semifinal game, Jimenez is proud of how far he went in his last high school soccer season.

“It feels pretty cool, because, just knowing that we did something that many teams haven’t been able to do for years in this school; and we aways wanted to push ourselves further than the first round, because that’s where the school has always gotten eliminated, so it felt good getting far, but we just didn’t get as far as we wanted.”

Jimenez has been playing soccer since he was 5; it’s a passion of his.

“I love playing it all the time, with my friends, or by myself sometimes, if I’m bored,” he said, chuckling. “I just love playing it.”

He plays club soccer with Total Futbol Academy, in South Albany, but he says it isn’t the same as playing with the Panthers; he’s played with many of those guys for the last four years.

“It doesn’t feel that good, but I guess just time to move on to club soccer,” he said, which he plays year-round. “I’ll miss playing for Central though.”

He has a lot to be proud of throughout his four years with the team. This year was the year he was especially proud of.

“Just going further than anyone expected,” he said, “because at the beginning of the season we had a lot of struggles; and we weren’t a very strong team, but we added a couple players, and everybody else stepped up, knowing that we were gonna have to; because we didn’t have a good amount of players, so everybody was gonna have to step up and work harder, and we all did, and it worked pretty good.”

Jimenez will finish his senior year out in the spring with tennis, a sport he got into by happenstance.

“One of my friends was playing it the year before, and he’s on the soccer team too, and he told me (tennis is) pretty fun, and I was partners with him for doubles, and I liked it,” Jimenez said.

His natural athleticism-and hard work, of course-got him all the way to districts in tennis last year.

“This year I want to go to state,” he said, smiling.

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