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Mena to play college soccer in Maine
Sometimes the destination isn't as important as the journey and, as Chinese philosopher Laozi once wrote, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
That first step was an unexpected and difficult one for 2011 Williams High graduate Limbet Mena, who left her close-knit family behind to play women's soccer at Mendocino College, and her journey will soon include a new home more than 3,000 miles away when she enrolls in the University of Maine at Fort Kent to play women's soccer in the fall.
"It's a great opportunity, I've already visited all over the West Coast: California, Oregon, Washington and Mexico. It's a new journey to take to get to know and visit the East Coast," Mena said.
She will receive a yearly $17,500 academic scholarship to play for the small private school, which plays in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association, a governing organization primarily made up from small East Coast colleges. She plans on studying nursing or health care when she arrives at her new school.
The opportunity to play at a four-year university came as a surprise to Mena, whose record-setting soccer career at Williams High ended with heartbreak in the Northern Section Division III championship in 2011.
Mena, who turns 20 later this month, thought her soccer career was over despite scoring a school-record 99 goals and leading the Yellowjackets to back-to-back championship games, where they fell twice to Colusa in penalty shootouts. A last-second offer from the new Mendocino College coach, Shane Huff, provided an opportunity to continue playing the sport she excelled at.
"I took the last, and only, opportunity I had and it was the best two years of my life. I was living on my own after being the first of my family to attend college. Being Mexican-American, my parents are very close to me so it was a big step to come out here," Mena said.
Leaving home was difficult for her because she has a 13-year-old brother and a 1 1/2-year-old sister, but she quickly adapted to college life through the support of parents Joel and Janet Mena, and some unexpected friends.
This season the Mendocino roster was awash with familiar faces, including freshmen Itzel Ramirez (Williams), Natalia Villagomez (Pierce High), and Briceida Jacobo and Maria Vargas (Esparto).
"I never imagined for Williams and Esparto to be on the same team because we were rivals, and Colusa too, so it was something I never expected. Now we're really good friends — high school was one thing but college is different," Mena said.
Drawing players from Colusa County and the surrounding area became a focus for Huff when he took over the program in 2011, and Mena was one of his first recruits. Huff has been in touch with several seniors from Colusa County high schools about playing there next season.
"It's a great little fit and a great niche. We're hoping to bring in some more kids from Colusa and Williams," Huff said.
Former Williams coach Alex Morales is a big reason why the Mendocino roster has so many familiar faces. He advocates for the players and encourages them to pursue soccer after high school, Huff said.
Huff moved Mena from forward to outside fullback during her freshman year and she earned All-Bay Valley Conference honors at her new position.
This season Mena moved once again, this time to midfield, where she helped the Eagles win the BVC title with a conference record of 11-0-1 and an overall record of 16-2-3, losing in the second round of the playoffs to Fresno City College.
During her two years at Mendocino, Mena was second in school history in games played (38), and third in both games started (34) and minutes played (2,703).
"She's versatile, that's one thing Limbet is very blessed with. She is a very honest kid, a very team-oriented kid. In our first year we needed some outside backs, we needed to tighten up there. She said to 'put me there,'" Huff said.
Coming from a small school, Mena wasn't certain about her ability to play at a collegiate level when she arrived at Mendocino, but she quickly acclimated to the speed and skill of the next level, according to Huff.
"We've really become a family here. Limbet is such a special kid, we're going to miss her so much, but we're excited for her. We're 100 percent confident that this young lady will be successful in everything she does," Huff said.
CONTACT Kirk Barron at 458-2121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.