By Ray Hamill — They may have caused a little bit of controversy when they decided to forgo their senior year of high school soccer in favor of playing for a local travel team, but it’s a decision that appears to have paid off for a number of the players.
Many of the top local high school players, who have been playing side by side for several years on travel teams, opted this past season to not play for their respective schools in order to be able to play against better competition in the competitive fall travel team season.
In some ways, it was a decision forced upon them with the Humboldt-Del Norte League one of the few conferences in the state that still plays in the fall.
Either way, it’s a decision that appears to be paying dividends for many of the players, with several now going on to play at the collegiate level.
And they should be better prepared for it because of that commitment.
This past week alone, three of them — Conor Barres, Sean Handl and Luis Melecio — signed letters of intent to play college soccer, joining longtime teammate Benicio Benavides-Garb, who recently committed to plat at Humboldt State.
“For us that’s a huge accomplishment,” the boys’ travel team assistant coach Tim Olson said. “Our goal all along was to provide them that opportunity.”
Of the eight seniors who played on the team, Olson expects all of them to be playing college ball.
“Most likely, there will be more to come,” he said.
On Monday, Barres signed a letter of intent to play at Pacific University in Oregon, where he will play for former HSU player Eric Mild, who is in his sixth year as head coach of the program.
The former Logger played two years at Eureka High before committing to the travel team this past fall.
Later in the week, both Sean Handl of Arcata and Luis Melecio of McKinleyville signed on to play for College of the Redwoods.
And the experience of playing at a high level is one of the things that has CR head coach Kyle Van Dyke excited about the additions.
“They bring a lot of experience. They’ve played at a very competitive level,” he said. “And you can tell when they’re out there they are strong on the ball and ready to contribute at this level.”
Both players are expected to help shore up a Redwoods defense that allowed almost four goals a game in a winless season (0-14-3).
They join Fortuna’s Aaron Mignon and Hoopa’s Richard Carpenter, who recently also signed on to play at CR in the fall, and Van Dyke said he expects more commits in the coming weeks.
Like Mignon, one of the reasons Melecio choose CR was because his older brother Ramiro played there.
“I wanted to follow in his footsteps,” the younger Melecio said.
Handl, meanwhile, is looking forward to continuing to play close to home.
“I choose CR because I wanted to stay close to family and friends,” he said.
Playing travel soccer in Humboldt County was a huge commitment for all the players, who traveled hundreds of miles most weekends just to compete.
Barres, who also competes in track and field, joins a Boxers program that plays at the NCAA Division-II level in the Northwest Conference.
Last season, they were 3-11-4.