Washington Alves and Vitor Huertas came to Western Nebraska Community College three years ago to play soccer. After three years as a Cougar, the two soccer players will be traveling together to play at Arizona Christian University next year.

                The two Cougars hail from the same city in Brazil, Sao Paulo, but they didn’t know each other even being somewhat close. When Alves and Huertas arrived in Scottsbluff in the fall of 2019, they become friends.

                Now, these two made it official by signing to continue playing at the NAIA school in Glendale, Arizona, where they will help the Firestorm to continue the soccer success they have had the past couple years.

                “I choose to go there because of the weather and the location, and also because of the scholarship they gave to me,” Alves said. “It is a good opportunity and think a lot of my career after college where I want to be a coach after I graduate. I think Arizona is a good place. They have a lot of opportunities there. Also, the soccer program is really good.”

                Huertas said he decided on Arizona Christian for the same reasons as Alves. Huertas is hoping to be coaching in the United States after he graduates from college.

                “I think it will be a good opportunity to grow, not only as a soccer player, but as a human being because there are a lot of opportunities,” he said. “It is different from Scottsbluff. It is bigger and more opportunities after I graduate. I also have plans to stay here in the US and work as a coach.”

                Huertas said with both going to the same school, it will help them as they continue their playing career at a school that went 11-4-2 a year ago and lost in the GSAC conference semifinals.

“I have been with him for three years and we are from the same city in Brazil and not that far away, but we never met each other before,” Huertas said. “I think moving on together will be good for both of us to help each other and have someone that we can count on. He has been a really good friend the past three years and I hope we keep the friendship over there.”

The two had a strong season this year as the Cougars went 8-6-2 falling in the semifinals of the Region IX tournament to Laramie County Community College. Both players earned all-region honors. Alves was a first-team mid-fielder while Huertas was an honorable mention defender.

The two have grown a lot as soccer players while at WNCC.

“I have learned a lot because the soccer style we play back home is different from here,” Alves said. “It doesn’t matter how good you are, you are always improving. And always getting better. I have been learning a lot since I got here.”

For Huertas, it wasn’t so much as him improving his soccer, it was more so of him improving as a person.

“I think I improved a lot but not just as a player, but I grew a lot in many aspects of my life,” Huertas said. “I think being an international student and an international player, when you come here you adapt your style of soccer. I think I improved myself a lot with this challenge and getting to play with other players from around the world also helped us.”

Alves said he wants to play soccer for as long as he can in memory of his father, who passed away when Alves was 19 years old.

“I have been playing soccer since I was five or six years old and I came here because of soccer and my major and because in the US, I have more opportunity than back home,” he said. “Playing soccer is the only way to pay for schooling and for us to stay in the US. I also like to play soccer because my dad, who passed away when I was 19. I remember him and I want to play soccer for the rest of my life.

The Cougars played their last spring scrimmage the last weekend in April and on the way home on the bus, the players that are leaving soaked in playing the final time in blue and gold.

“That is really hard and we were talking about that on the bus,” Alves said. “We have been here for three years, and Arizona Christian University is really nice and I really love it, but it will be hard to take off the blue and gold, but I am also grateful and ready for the next chapter.”

Huertas said saying goodbye is the hardest part. The two will walk across the stage at WNCC graduation on May 14 wearing blue and gold and seeing the Cougar in Cougar Palace for the final time before they begin the next chapter in their life.

“That is the hardest part of saying goodbye to all the connections that we made here,” Huertas said. “When everybody comes to Scottsbluff, they all have the same feeling that this is a small city and nothing to do and will get bored all the time. The connections that we made here are really strong and powerful. I feel all my friends that are here today impacted my life somehow and I will always be grateful for that friendship. This is a special place because everyone that is leaving has the same feeling like (women’s soccer player) Jackie Valenciano posted on her Instagram that it is hard to say goodbye. The time here is really special and grateful.

“I want to thank everybody that is here that helped on this journey. Thank you Coach Henri, Coach Ivan, Coach Todd for allowing me to come here to play the sport that I love and to chase my dreams. And to all my friends that I made here, I love you all. And especially to my family, I want to thank them because they might not understand what I am saying but they gave me a lot of support. For international students it is very hard to leave your home and family and I am glad I have a family that believes in me and allows me to chase my dreams.”