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IEFC 98/99 Premier MRL team heads to showcase in final season, leaves lasting mark on organization

By elite, 02/17/17, 9:00PM CST

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Indiana Elite’s 98/99 Premier MRL team recently showcased its talents in the ‘City of Lights,’ at the Las Vegas Mayor’s Cup International Youth Soccer Showcase on February 18-20. The team competed in the top division of the tournament, and placed second in its bracket, winning 3 out of 4 games.

This was a great opportunity to showcase the team and individual players who are on the radar of college coaches and recruiters. Led by IEFC Director of Coaching Novi Marojevic and Coach TJ Ayegbusi, the team played four tournament games, despite the adverse weather conditions out west, facing top-ranked teams from California, Utah, Denmark, and Washington.

MRL teams are known for having an elite level of training and a long list of accomplishments, and this team is no exception.  These passionate and charismatic student-athletes are dedicated on and off the field.  They are well-rounded, hardworking athletes that practice multiple times per week, active in their schools and churches, and work part-time jobs or secure sponsorships to personally fund their training.  Many sacrifices are made by these young men in the name of soccer.  Tournaments give these players a chance to shine.

Michael Zubeck, a college-bound high school senior, plays defensive mid with the team.  Zubeck started with Coach Novi at the tender age of 7.  Soccer has given players like Zubeck a broader view of life by traveling to tournaments, meeting players from throughout the world, and thinking about how their lives will be shaped based on these experiences.  It has given them a chance to build a future for themselves - a sense of camaraderie, and most of all, a sense of family.

Because of their age, this is the Indiana Elite 98/99 Premier MRL team’s final season.  Ninety-five percent of the team has been offered an opportunity to play soccer in college.  They are heading to places such as DePauw University, Wabash College, and Western Illinois University.  Players on the team have even been scouted and offered opportunities by professional teams in Europe. This will be bittersweet for Coach Novi in particular.  He has seasoned many of these athletes since 2006, when they began soccer as the Indiana Tigers team. 

Carlos Martinez has played center back with the Indiana Elite 98/99 Premier MRL team since 2014.  Martinez says that being a student-athlete has shaped his life and helped him become the young adult he is today.  “Soccer has shaped my future in many different ways,” he said. “It has taught me things that school doesn't always show - like leadership, how to work as a team, learning to communicate, and many other things.”

These players have had the opportunity experience more of the world because of their dedication on the field.  Their soccer experience has allowed them to design their own future.  Some of these players will be the first generation in their family to attend college.

Jorge “YoYo” Garcia, left wing and left forward, has been with the club since the inception of Indiana Elite.  “Soccer has changed my plans for the future. It showed me that a sport can open up many great opportunities,” he said.  “Soccer is one of the things that has helped me decide what college I will be attending.”

“Because of my experience playing soccer, I’ve gotten to meet so many people, made many connections, and have really grown as a person.  I am very thankful for that.  I’ve had the chance to meet different college coaches and explore different opportunities for my higher education,” said Zubeck.  Soccer has been the catalyst for him to explore colleges and universities that he otherwise may have overlooked.  He wants to major in economics and finance.  An MBA, to be exact.

Most of the players have been together for 10 years, and naturally their chemistry is electrifying.  Among their long list of accomplishments: 2016 Indiana State U18 runner-up, 2015 Super Y National Finals qualifier, 2014 US Youth Soccer National Championship Series Midwest Regional participant, 2014 Indiana State Cup U15 Champion, 2013 Indiana State Cup U14 runner-up, 2012 Zionsville Youth Soccer Association Socctoberfest U14 Green Division Champion, 2012 US Youth Soccer Region II President’s Cup U13 Champion, 2012 Indiana President’s Cup U13 Champion, 2012 Grove United Memorial Day Shootout U13 World Cup Division Champion, and 2011 Zionsville Youth Soccer Association Socctoberfest U13 White Division Champion.  They’ve been all over Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and now Las Vegas. 

The accomplishments of this busy team don’t stop here.  Because of their dedication and love of the game, they share their talents by giving back to IEFC.  Members of this Indiana Elite 98/99 Premier MRL team assist in coaching the Elite Juniors team, comprised of 3 to 6-year-old players.  Partnering since this summer, they have taught preschool and early elementary students the fundamentals of soccer and are nurturing a passion for the game.

In addition to coaching the Elite Juniors, some of the team members like Martinez serve as mentors for many of the club’s younger athletes, whether it be discussing soccer techniques or giving advice on what it takes to get into college as a student-athlete.  Mentoring elementary and middle school players has been a large contribution from this team.  They are sharing the importance of planning for the future, encouraging players to begin thinking about college at an early age, discussing their experiences in the college planning process, and modeling the traits of a well-rounded student-athlete. “Soccer is a beautiful sport.  A lot of people call it ‘The People’s Sport.’ If I get to show the kids a little piece of that puzzle, I think it’s amazing,” Zubeck said.

As for the man behind the scenes, Essay Ramos and the team have a profound respect and admiration for Coach Novi.  “Novi is amazing.  He always knows how to motivate us when we aren't having a good game,” he said. “He loves us and takes good care of us.”  Ramos plays forward and midfield, and has been on the team for five plus years. 

Teammate Garcia added, “The Indiana Elite doesn't just create a team, it creates a brotherhood bond that will never be broken.”

IEFC and team players extend a warm thank you to all of the sponsors who have made traveling to the Las Vegas Mayor’s Cup International Youth Soccer Showcase possible.