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Mexican American girl turns into first NCAA Division I feminine kicker at an HBCU | CNN



A Mexican American girl has turn into the primary feminine kicker at Jackson State College, a NCAA Division I Traditionally Black School and College.

Leilani Armenta instructed CNN she was nervous when she stepped onto the sphere throughout the group’s September 23 recreation towards rival Bethune-Cookman College, however she knew she had a job to do. She stated she simply targeted on enjoying the sport.

“At first, I used to be like, ‘Okay, I’m enjoying. I’m enjoying soccer,’ Armenta stated. “It was after the sport, I used to be like, ‘Wow, that was historical past that was made. Historical past that was optimistic and impacted so many individuals.’”

Armenta wasn’t simply nervous about her historic recreation time debut – the freshman communications main can be recovering from ACL surgical procedure she had final yr and has spent the season coaching and kicking in a brace.

Regardless of enjoying via the ache, Armenta was instrumental in Jackson State’s 22-16 victory over Bethune-Cookman College. Her 25-yard kick-off late within the recreation helped seal the win.

Followers and teammates alike are hoping she will be able to deliver the identical precision and power to the group’s October 14 homecoming recreation towards Alabama State College.

Armenta instructed CNN she selected to attend the Jackson State College, an HBCU, as a result of the college had among the best applications for her main. However she’s additionally keen about sports activities and has cultivated a love for soccer since highschool.

As a freshman, her expertise and ability shocked coaches at St. Bonaventure Excessive Faculty in Ventura, California.

“She was the most effective freshman kicker that we had,” stated Joseph Goyeneche, Armenta’s highschool soccer head coach. “There was no query she was she was the most effective that we had.”

Armenta additionally performed soccer in highschool, which helped her together with her accuracy, Goyeneche stated. However she tore her ACL enjoying soccer throughout her senior yr in highschool. Docs instructed her whereas she couldn’t proceed to play soccer, she may play soccer.

Goyeneche remembers the dialog he had with Armenta after her medical doctors gave her the information.

“The physician stated, ‘Properly, you’re not going to have the ability to play soccer this yr. However we are able to maintain off on surgical procedure and it’s not going to worsen … you possibly can kick and it’s going to be just a little painful,” Goyeneche stated.

Armenta stated she jumped on the alternative to proceed enjoying the sport she liked.

“I wasn’t going to show it down,” Armenta stated. “I had a few of the greatest days I’ve had enjoying highschool soccer on and off the sphere.”

All through her highschool profession, Goyeneche stated Armenta made 98 out of 105 additional factors tried and was 5 for five in kicking subject objectives. Her longest kick was 30 yards, he stated.

Armenta instructed CNN she’s now made a 46-yard kick in observe however she’s working with coaches to extend her leg power and distance. She hasn’t tried a subject aim this season, however her former coach stated every time the time comes, Armenta shall be prepared.

“She’s unbelievable and her journey has been unbelievable,” Goyeneche stated. “There’s no distinction between her and a male kicker.”

T.C. Taylor, head soccer coach at Jackson State College, instructed CNN the freshman is a crucial a part of the group and has been welcomed with open arms.

“They had been excited,” he stated, including Armenta’s arrival stuffed an enormous want for the group. “Our kicker was damage, our punter was damage, and we didn’t have anyone else.”

Taylor stated Armenta’s soccer teammate really useful her to the teaching workers and her efficiency on the sphere shocked everybody.

“She got here out and once we noticed her shifting round and kicking it was like, ‘Okay, that is what God dealt us, so we’re going to go along with it.’”

A handful of feminine athletes have made historical past enjoying school soccer. In 2003, Katie Hnida, a kicker for the College of New Mexico, grew to become the primary girl to attain in an NCAA Divison I recreation.

In 2020, Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller grew to become the primary girl in historical past to attain in a Energy 5 school recreation when she efficiently kicked two additional factors towards the College of Tennessee.

And final month, Haley Van Voorhis, grew to become the primary feminine soccer participant to seem in an NCAA soccer recreation outdoors of the kicker place. Van Voorhis performs security for Shenandoah College, a Division III faculty.

Regardless of her success at Jackson State, Armenta has confronted critics who say she’s taking a spot on the group’s roster away from a male. However she instructed CNN she doesn’t let the criticism trouble her.

“The (ACL) harm was like a blessing in disguise. I’ve all the time liked sports activities and been grateful to play however whenever you get damage and also you notice you possibly can’t do one thing that you simply love, it was actually, actually exhausting,” she stated. “I believe I’m simply not fazed by what individuals should say. I really feel like I’ve earned (the proper) to be right here I’m going to proceed working exhausting simply to get higher and higher.”

Coach Taylor described Armenta as a competitor and stated he desires her to be extra concerned in video games as she continues to regain power in her leg.

“The best way this group operates, you realize, if you happen to may also help us win soccer video games, and also you come on the market and work exhausting, they’re going to just accept you. And he or she did that from day one,” Taylor stated, including Armenta shall be a member of the group for so long as she desires.

“I’d wish to keep it up in school. That’s my aim,” she stated, “I really like kicking.”

As for what comes subsequent, Armenta stated she’s specializing in the current however welcomes a possibility if knowledgeable sports activities league comes calling.

“If it occurs, I might find it irresistible,” she stated, “If anybody desires to choose me up, I’m more than pleased to do it. That might be superior.”

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