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Cosgrove hopes Pima's national championship will give S Az players their due

Longtime Pima College coach talks about tournament success after 30 years of coming close

Coach David Cosgrove and the Pima College men’s soccer team arrived back in Tucson late Sunday with a new status: national champions.

“It was the greatest run in Pima College soccer’s history,” said Cosgrove. “We won our last 18 games in a row. I don’t think we’ve won 9 in a row without a tie ever… I’m trying to set back a bit. The kids found a way to win every game.”

It’s something that the Aztecs have come agonizingly close to in the 30 years that Cosgrove has been associated with the team.

“I was a player at Pima College in 1988 and we lost in the national final,” he said. “I’ve been personally pursuing this for 30 years…we’ve had some unbelievable players for this team — Donny Toia, Minh Vu, Arturo Vega, Jason Romero — and none of them could get us over the hump to get to a national title.”

And that “hump,” it could be argued, is a rougher go than the NCAA men’s tournament. Pima played its final three matches on three successive days, and had to win, including the district qualifiers, eight matches to earn the trophy. The NCAA tournament, on the other hand, started on November 11 and will finish up on December 9. The winner could play as few as five matches in that period.

Oh yeah, and Pima also played the last 25 minutes of regular time plus the extra time period a man short after a red card.

Even though this is their first time winning the tournament, Pima has been a perpetual contender for regional and district titles and has competed for the national title on two occasions before. The level is maintained despite being having to cycle through players every two years.

“We are pretty lucky. We have a pretty good support system at Pima,” he said. “We have a great culture that we have cultivated over the last two decades. There is an expectation of winning at Pima. That’s at an all-time high. This whole decade, we’ve been the best team on the west coast.”

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“We get good kids. Southern Arizona has a lot of good players that don’t get recruited or seen,” he added. “They don’t get the respect they deserve, but we have a good recruiting base.”

That lack of recognition of Southern Arizona as a place with good soccer is something that Cosgrove feels will change with the championship.

“It’s been coming already,” he said. “Last year, we lost in the semifinals, but every sophomore was offered a place to play for a four-year school. That’s the notoriety the program is getting, and we’ll get a ton more…our kids will now get the recognition they deserve.”

Hugo and big goals

The winning goal of the tournament came from Hugo Kametani. The quartet of Toia, Vu, Vega and Romero may be Cosgrove’s Mt. Rusmore of Pima Soccer, but he has higher praise for Kametani.

“He is the greatest men’s soccer player ever to put on a Pima College uniform,” Cosgrove said. “He scored a goal in every playoff game. It’s not that he scores goals; he scores big goals.”

At season’s end, the Japanese-born player recorded 30 goals. That put him on top of Pima’s previous scoring record set by Romero.

Rodgers and Hammerstein wouldn't be pleased

This weekend marked the third occasion where Pima competed for the national championship. Cosgrove was a player on the team that lost to Mercer County in 1988. The second time is one that has been erased from the record books.

In 1999, Pima College made the final against the State Fair College of Missouri. State Fair’s line-up included future US national team player Edson Buddle.

Pima lost a close match 3-2, but later it was learned that State Fair fielded ineligible players in both the 1998 and 1999 championships. They forfeited the 2000 season and both championships were vacated. Pima was not awarded a championship in State Fair’s place, so the list of NJCAA champions has two blank spots on its list.

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Pima Athletics

David Cosgrove celebrates with the Pima College Aztecs after winning the NJCAA championship.

What, where & when

  • Pima College soccer pep rally
  • 3 p.m., Tuesday
  • West Campus Aztec Gymnasium