Paradise Valley Community College Women’s Soccer eyes perfection

Paradise Valley Community College forward Shelby Stewart (2) dribbles the ball past Phoenix College defender Mayra Cruz (13) during a match between the two schools Tuesday, Sept. 27 at Cindy Shoenhair Soccer Field at PVCC. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Paradise Valley Community College forward Shelby Stewart (2) dribbles the ball past Phoenix College defender Mayra Cruz (13) during a match between the two schools Tuesday, Sept. 27 at Cindy Shoenhair Soccer Field at PVCC. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Prior to the start of the 2016 season, each member of the Paradise Valley Community College women’s soccer team brought forth a set of goals to accomplish during the season.

While each of these goals tend to vary from player to player, Head Coach Jon Ruzan said there is one that each one has in common: win a national championship.

So far this season, the PVCC Pumas are on the fast track to reaching that goal as they are 12–0 with only eight more games left in the regular season. That winning streak has yielded a No. 2 ranking in the National Junior College Athletic Association Poll, as of Tuesday, Sept. 27.

PVCC is searching for its first national championship since 2012. The Pumas have two national titles to their name: one in 2010 and another in 2012, which was an undefeated season.

In addition to those titles, PVCC has had a double-digit winning season every year since 2006.
Given the progress of the team so far this season, Coach Ruzan said he is a bit surprised by how well the team is doing.

PVCC forward Shelby Stewart attempts to head the ball past Phoenix College goalkeeper Melissa Avendano during a match between the two schools Tuesday, Sept. 27 at Cindy Shoenhair Soccer Field at PVCC.

PVCC forward Shelby Stewart attempts to head the ball past Phoenix College goalkeeper Melissa Avendano during a match between the two schools Tuesday, Sept. 27 at Cindy Shoenhair Soccer Field at PVCC.

“I knew we were one of the top teams going in but a perfect record was not going to be possible given how tough our conference is,” Coach Ruzan said during a Sept. 28 interview.

That conference is Arizona Community College Athletic Conference, which includes 16 community colleges throughout the state.

Despite the initial surprise, the Pumas have found a system that works for them and Coach Ruzan said it includes how talented his athletes are and the depth of his team.

That talent has led to a lopsided output in favor of the Pumas. So far this season, PVCC has outscored opponents 48–6 and outshot opponents 63–31.

The offensive success falls largely on forward Jamie Iurato, who has notched 21 goals this season.

Coach Ruzan said Iurato comes to Paradise Valley as a transfer from the University of Oklahoma. Ruzan also said she is an older athlete as there are about three years between her freshman year at Oklahoma and her sophomore year at PVCC.

During 18 months of that time off, Iurato was a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Coach Ruzan said Iurato is both an asset to the team on and off the field.

“Her character is a big thing too,” he said during a Sept. 28 interview. “She takes responsibility on the field. There have been some games where she hasn’t scored but I can’t say there hasn’t been a game she hasn’t contributed.”

Defensively, goalkeeper Arielle Perez said the key to the defensive success is organization.

“Janessa (Dunbar) is my centerback and we just organize the back really well,” Perez said during a Sept. 28 interview. “That leads to the midfield pushing that up to the forwards and that brings us success.”

Perez has shined during her time between the posts, accounting for 33 saves and 11 wins. However, Coach Ruzan said Perez is not the only talented goalkeeper on his team.

“Madison Lucas was our goalkeeper last year,” he said during a Sept. 28 interview. “She’s still probably the next best goalkeeper in the conference. It’s just pure bad luck that Arielle Perez showed up.”

Coach Ruzan said goalkeeper is not the only position that is solid in depth. He said he could switch out all four players on the backline for their backups and still be comfortable with their output.

“Depth is easily the No. 1 reason (for our success),” he said during a Sept. 28 interview.

With this type of success also comes challenges and defender Janessa Dunbar said she has seen “I try and keep as much composure as I can,” she said during a Sept. 28 interview.

“Being a captain and a leader, I need to show that everyone else needs to keep that. But, I just pretty much focus on soccer and what we need to do as a team to win instead of focusing on the other players on the other teams trying to rattle us up.”

With only eight games left in the regular season, Perez said the team has to be ready for anything since the rest of the season can be unpredictable.

“We’re not necessarily just chilling, we’re definitely still on our heels, ready to go and we’re still going,” she said during a Sept. 28 interview.

However, Coach Ruzan said the goal set in the preseason by each of the players is the driving factor for the team to keep up their success.

“That’s why players come here,” he said during a Sept. 28 interview. “Who gets a chance to win a national championship? It’s very rare. You know you come in and play on a top team in the toughest conference in the nation.”

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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