Scottsbluff’s Merrissa Espinoza has been a hard-nosed defender for the Bearcat girl’s soccer team the past three seasons and she will get to continue playing the sport she loves at the next level after signing to play with Western Nebraska Community College women’s soccer for the next two years.
For Espinoza, it was an easy decision.
“Coach Rasnic was talking to me about it my junior year. He has been around and knows my family on my dad side. My cousin [Adrian Veliz Smith] played there and tells me how good a team it was. Later on I went on to watch them play to see how good of a connection they had. Also, it is really close to home because I am a home-body. I just wanted to be close to my family and it sounded like a really good team to be a part of.”
Espinoza said that the biggest thing is she gets to keep playing soccer.
“It is really exciting. I am kind of short so to go against bigger girls will be exciting. I am aggressive and like to play clean but sometimes if you take out a bigger girl it is satisfying. Sorry, I am just kind of person. It will be nice and my family can come and see me play at a bigger level. It is a really good accomplishment.
Espinoza said that having her teammates here for support means the world to her.
“It means everything. The seniors. Especially my cousin Breana Villagrana. We have been through so much. And to everyone that supports me and pushes me to be the person I want to be. My team is a second family to me.”
Espinoza has been one of those players that isn’t to get physical on the pitch and her high school coach Chad Larson said he appreciates a player like Espinoza.
“I am extremely proud of her. I have known Merrissa since she was a seventh grader,” Larson said. “I have had her in class and her work ethic has continually has gotten better and better over the years. Day in and day out she puts in the work. I know how special this is for her and I am proud of her and her family.”
Larson said her play on the field is unreal.
“She knows her strengths and she knows her weaknesses,” he said. “She knows how to play both of those. I think the thing that impresses me the most since her freshman year is, being a defender, sometimes you get under pressure and you could panic and she doesn’t panic. She is always calm and collected. She plays very smooth and with her part of my back line I am not ever worried when the ball goes to her side.”
Rasnic said he is excited to be getting a player like Espinoza.
“I think you saw why I wanted her to come play for me. She’s got the heart and if she believes in what she is doing, she will fight for you and that is what I need,” he said. “I need players that will come in and be tenacious defenders but play from within. I really enjoy having players and personalities that really drive them in leaning toward the team. She is the type of student athlete that will be that kind of player for me. I think she will be that student athlete that will be kind of player.
“The other thing that drew me to her is last year when we came out to practice in the spring, she had an open period in school and I saw her at the soccer field every day running and putting in work. You see kids putting in work when the coach is staring right on top of them. Kids that are giving the effort when no one is looking, that is the kid that is dedicated to what they are trying to accomplish in life. So, I think, as some level they need to be awarded. I think she will come in and be a valuable player for us.”
Espinoza, who plans on going into social work, is a person that cares about other people. That is why she picked social work.
“A lot of people have told me that it is low pay but I want to make a difference in this world,” she said. “Those kids go through a lot. I want to help them out.”