South Suburban women’s soccer played to win and battle stigmas in first ever national tournament appearance

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South Suburban College
The South Suburban College Bulldogs played in the NCJAA Division II Women's National Championship tournament for the first time in the school's history. (Photo provided)
By Josh Bootsma

LANSING, Ill. (November 22, 2021) – When asked to reflect on the historic season that South Suburban College women’s soccer completed last week, head coach Jose Gonzalez didn’t speak about the Bulldogs’ 15 wins in a season of 18 games, he didn’t speak to the team’s impressive goal differential, and he didn’t mention the nationally-ranked performances of his best players. Instead, he explained the significance of a successful women’s soccer team in the south suburbs — and the hope of breaking stigmas and stereotypes that have long been attached to the sport.

“We’re in an area where girls soccer has not traditionally been very strong at the high school and club level as a whole. And being able to get to the point where we’re competing with schools at a national level that come from areas that have a lot of tradition in terms of girls soccer — and not just tradition — a lot of other schools have a lot more resources than we have. …  And finding a group of young ladies that work as hard as they did to get to that point, I feel really proud,” Gonzalez said.

A historically successful season

Twenty years after the women’s soccer program started at South Suburban College, Gonzalez and his team of athletes have made school history by playing in the National Championship tournament of the NJCCA (National Junior College Athletic Association).

Gonzalez, who has coached the women’s team for five years and been involved with the men’s team since 2000, said the Bulldogs were on the bubble to get into the national tournament, as they were not champions of their region. The regional champion was Waubonsee Community College, to whom SSC lost twice during the regular season.

“We got compared with a couple of other regions from the east coast and we had the highest rank, the best goal differential. We had the best statistics on paper and that’s what got us our bid,” Gonzalez said.

The only other loss of SSC’s regular season came at the hands of Heartland Community College, located in Normal, IL. Heartland also matched up against the Bulldogs in the national tournament, knocking them out of the tournament in a 4-1 win. Heartland went on to win the NCJAA Division II National Championship.

One of the standout players for the Bulldogs this season was Lansing resident Amaris Gonzalez, who netted 38 goals during the season — earning her second place in the nation in that category for Division II. Gonzalez also led the nation with 29 assists on the season. Another cornerstone of the team was Priscilla Fotelo who scored 28 goals on the season, earning a national ranking as well.

The Bulldogs outscored their opponents throughout the regular season 99-22. The team was ranked as 8th in the nation in Division II of the NJCAA at the end of the season.

South Suburban College
The SSC Bulldogs ranked nationally as a team, and some individual players were ranked nationally as well. (Photo provided)

A winning season for South Suburban College, for soccer, and for the community

Though proud of the wins, goals, and National Tournament appearance, coach Jose Gonzalez is even more proud of the ways his team has conducted itself, and given credence to women’s soccer in the south suburbs.

“One of the things that is very important is the fact that we’re bringing respectability to our school, to our community, to our families. And not just because of the way that we play but because of the way our team carries itself on and off the field. Our coaching philosophy is we’re just trying to help our athletes become better people,” he said.

Gonzalez explained that the south suburbs generally do not have an impressive history when it comes to women’s soccer, and that’s a result of multiple factors.

The first, he said, is a cultural one, explaining that 95% of his players now are Mexican Americans, a reality that challenges some traditional gender norms. “It wasn’t until the last few years that families finally started to accept that hey, girls can play soccer; hey, girls can compete at the highest levels; hey, girls can get a scholarship to play soccer.”

Gonzalez said boys soccer is competitive at both the college and high school levels in our the south suburban area, and that girls soccer is slowly starting to catch up.

“Now it’s finally starting to shift on the girls side. … There are enough players that try out on the girls side now where at least we can be respectable and be competitive.”

Other reasons why women’s soccer has historically struggled at South Suburban College, said Gonzalez, are the perceived inferiority of the school due to both its “rough” location and its status as a junior college.

A successful season like the one finished last week is a step in the right direction toward making the south suburbs a thriving community for women’s soccer, Gonzalez said.

South Suburban College
South Suburban College is located at 15800 South State Street in South Holland. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Life goals

Gonzalez is a longtime Lansing resident, and works as a dean at Thornwood High School in South Holland. He’s been involved with soccer for much of his life, and he knows the good it can bring to a community and to students.

“I’m passionate about it. Soccer got me through school. I went to a high school that had no soccer but guess what? I was able to play Division 1 soccer, I tried out, I walked on, and I made the team. It got me through school. I know if it wasn’t for soccer, I wouldn’t have the academic background I have now,” he said, adding that he met his wife through soccer as well.

“When I sit here and see that soccer has done all these things for me, I want to make sure that I take these opportunities for me to help students from our area be better people. And I’m using their own resources that their parents are paying for the school because it’s their own tax money,” Gonzalez said.

He already has goals for next year’s team, which will keep most of its players and be looking to take home a regional championship title before another playoff run — all while continuing to combat stereotypes.

“We want to let people know that all these negative stigmas people have — hey, no. There’s also very positive things that happen. It’s an opportunity for anybody and everybody,” Gonzales said.

South Suburban College is located at 15800 South State Street in South Holland.

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