Senior forward Mayra Almazan played like a superstar during her time at Azusa Pacific.
In fall 2013, she scored the game-winning goal against Dallas Baptist, sending APU to the National Christian College Athletic Association’s (NCCAA) national championship. This season, she contributed six goals and seven assists for the Cougars on her way to winning the PacWest Player of the Year award. She also assisted on the goal that sent the Cougars through to the third round of the NCAA playoffs.
Almazan knows that her accomplishments resulted from a team effort, starting with her parents who supported and motivated her throughout her life.
“When I was little, my dad always took me out to parks,” Almazan said. “If I could have a dollar for every hour we spent practicing, I’d be a millionaire.”
From age 10-18, Almazan played club soccer in Newport Beach, CA, where her mother drove her three to four times a week.
“She hated driving on the freeway, and Newport isn’t close, but she would make the sacrifice for me,” Almazan said. “All the sacrifices they made, that definitely pushes me.”
Her teammates’ respect and camaraderie also drive her to excel. Senior forward Haley Fisher particularly notes Almazan’s “skill and vision” as an important part of the team’s leadership.
Senior midfielder Cassidy Burr finds inspiration in Almazan’s intensity on the field. “She is super explosive on the field, and she’s always playing above and beyond,” said Burr.
Furthermore, Almazan attributes her success to her coaches. She transferred from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) to APU after her freshman year, and said that she wouldn’t have gone anywhere else.
APU assistant coach Scott Mocabee also serves as the head coach at South Hills, where Almazan attended high school. Their history together set a solid foundation for the collegiate level.
Head coach Jason Surrell credits Almazan’s influence to part of the Cougars’ success this season. Surrell said, “Her desire and passion for the game is strong; she cares about her teammates, and that’s how she’s leading the team.”
However, the leadership role evolved a bit this year for Almazan. “Leading by example has been huge. Scoring goals hasn’t been my emphasis. It’s more about getting the team going,” she said. “Everybody kind of piggybacks off of it. If I go hard into a tackle, the next girl will go hard into a tackle. It’s been cool to see my role on the team change.”
Though her leadership style may have shifted, some things remain constant: The players work hard as a unit every day, and look to the team verse for strength as they approach the playoffs:
“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us,” (Romans 5:3-5).
Almazan builds on that Christ-centered mentally by facilitating “F.I.G.H.T. Partners,” an original idea of assitant coach Shannon Jenkin’s. The acronym stands for Family, Intentionality, God, Humility, and Tenacity. Almazan matches girls on the roster, and encourages them “to go get lunch, go write them a note, send them a text, or send them a verse. It just kind of brings unity to the team.”
She learned the importance of team unity during her time with the Costa Rica Women’s National Team. With Costa Rican parents, she carries dual citizenship and first earned a place on the roster in at the age of 14. She joined them again in 2014 on the Under-20 team in the U-20 World Cup. Finally, Almazan appeared on the national team roster for matches played in August in Pittsburgh (PA) and Chattanooga (TN) against the United States for the United States’ “Victory Tour.”
Almazan shared the difficulty she faced as an American woman on a Costa Rican team, saying that although the playing experience was great, they weren’t always welcoming. It spurred her to be more welcoming and hospitable with her teammates and new recruits whenever she can.
“I’m probably one of the most intense girls on the team. It’s just a certain level of professionalism that you have to have. I mean you can’t be messing around at a national practice,” Almazan said.
That level of dedication has served her well and will continue to motivate her as she looks ahead to her future beyond APU. “I could coach, or maybe do private lessons like I do now,” she said. “God will come up with something, and it’ll be good.”