By Ray Hamill — Humboldt County was well represented at last weekend’s big Olympic Development Program West Region soccer tournament in Mesa, Arizona, with three local players receiving invitations to the prestigious showcase event.
Arcata’s Zoe Macknicki and Izaiah Grosveld and McKinleyville’s Alejandro Benavides-Garb all made the trip as part of the Cal North program, and they’re not the only local players currently enjoying a productive relationship with the ODP.
After his recent success competing for Cal North and the West Region teams, Fortuna’s Antonio Garcinuno has been selected to play with the ODP national U19 team and will fly out to begin practice with the 20-player roster in Florida later this month.
He is the first local players to ever make it that far in ODP.
“To be honest, it was just amazing,” Garcinuno said last year of his experience with the program. “That’s the only way I can describe it. It was just amazing.”
Last weekend’s experience was just as enjoyable for Macknicki, Grosveld and Benavides-Garb.
“It was a really good experience,” Macknicki said. “It was a pretty awesome opportunity.”
Macknicki, who played a big role in helping lead the Arcata High girls to their first league title in five years this past fall, appeared in all four games for her Cal North 17U team in Arizona, including starting one.
The center midfield had an assist and helped her team go 2-2 and reach the tournament semifinals against the top teams from throughout the Western United States.
After deciding to try out in October of last year, the Arcata junior made the team along with a number of Eureka High players and began practicing with the program late in the year.
The dynamic offensive midfielder impressed enough to be the only local girls player to be chosen as part of as the Cal North travel roster for the regional tournament.
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot from the program,” she said. “The coaches have taught me skills I haven’t learned before.”
Grosveld, meanwhile, has been a part of the ODP program for the past four years and was making his third trip to the regional tournament.
“It was a great experience,” said the Arcata freshman, who added that the speed of the game is “a lot quicker than around here. It’s the quickest I’ve ever played and you have to think quicker.”
Grosveld played in all four games for his Cal North team, which also finished the tournament with a 2-2 record.
The 14-year-old, who plays attacking midfield, scored twice and set up two more goals for his team.
“It sucks not to win, but it was a fun experience,” he said. “I like staying with the team and traveling with them.”
Benavides-Garb is also an experienced ODP player and has been a part of the program for the past three years.
In addition to playing for the Cal North team, he has also represented the West Region ODP team.
And he has no doubt his skills have developed because of the program.
“Playing ODP has really helped my game,” he said after being selected to the West Region team this past fall. “It gave me a whole new perspective of how many good players are out there and what level you have to be to be a part of the program.”
Benavides-Garb played every minute of all four games for his team, which finished 3-1 and won the consolation game.
“The experience was fun and I always love being against talented players,” the center back/defensive midfielder said. “The chance to play against some of the top players in the region is amazing and I’m very grateful to have been a part of it.”
Eureka’s Lila Ekholdt, who was named MVP of the Big 5 this past season, also is a part of the Cal North ODP program and was an alternate for the travel roster.
Her Eureka High teammates Ella Tollefson and Maia Hales each also made the official ODP Cal North practice roster in the fall.