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Santa Clara soccer star: Heart for the game, faith for the journey

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As a walk-on this coming fall, Gabriel Virgen may or may not become the all-league collegiate soccer star his older sister Mayra was at Cal Lutheran University. That’s for the good Lord, his coaches and his competition to decide.

For now, the newly graduated senior goalkeeper from Santa Clara High School is content to reflect on an amazing senior season, in which he led the Saints to a league title, the CIF-Southern Section Division 7 championship, and the finals of the state regional Division 5 tournament — all after starting the year 0-4-1.

“We had a good group of seniors, good team chemistry and a good heart for the game,” said Virgen, relaxing for a few days after an “emotional but happy” June 2 graduation ceremony.

“And we wanted to achieve great things. Yeah, it was tough to lose that last [state regional] game to El Cajon Valley, but overall, our season was nothing to feel bad about.”

Quite the contrary, in fact. Virgen — all 5’8”, 130 pounds of him, who didn’t start playing competitive soccer until seventh grade — earned CIF Player of the Year honors in Division 7, as the Saints led the Frontier League in allowing the fewest goals (just 12 in 12 games), and went unbeaten in 18 straight games, compiling an overall mark of 18-6-2 (10-1-1 in league).

An honors student who graduated with a 4.1 GPA, he also was first team All-Ventura County as he co-captained the Saints in their spirited drive to their first-ever CIF title in boys’ soccer. In the March 4 final, Santa Clara — ranked fifth in Division 7 at the end of the regular season — defeated Victor Valley 1-0, as Virgen made eight saves.

And while he treasures the championship and individual honors that came his way, Virgen is especially grateful to have played for a team that wasn’t shy about expressing its faith.

“God had a lot to do with our season being so successful,” said the graduate of St. Anthony Elementary School, a few blocks from Santa Clara in Oxnard. “We prayed as a team before each game on the field, getting down on one knee, making the sign of the cross, giving thanks for the opportunity to participate. And going to a Catholic school was very important to me in developing my faith life, participating in retreats, praying daily and providing opportunities to do community service.”     

During his time at Santa Clara, Virgen helped out at Food Share and Habitat for Humanity, activities that “make a positive impact on our community, which feels really good. And it’s fun when you can do it with friends.”

With his family, he attends Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Oxnard and works part time with his father, a building contractor. “It’s good, hard, physical labor,” he said, smiling, “which helps me stay in shape.”

At Cal Lutheran, he plans to major in kinesiology with an eye to becoming a physical therapist, “which is a good way to stay connected with sports, whether or not I play college soccer.”

Above all, he is grateful for his faith and family — including older sister Mayra, the former Cal Lutheran all-league soccer star, now a student nurse “and a huge inspiration” — that helps him through challenging times.

“My family supports me in everything I do,” he said proudly, “and that makes me push even harder to exceed any boundaries that may get in my way. I feel really ready to move forward, and I know God will be there with me.”

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