There are a lot of factors that come into play when high school seniors start looking at college. Academics typically play a big factor in where people plan to spend the next four years of their lives. For high school athletes the decision often comes down to being able to make the team roster and if they are really lucky, getting a college scholarship. There aren’t many opportunities to play Division I soccer in Texas and there were even fewer in the late 90’s.
So for five kids from Houston, moving 1,800 miles to play soccer for the University of Connecticut became about winning a Championship. After falling short in 1998 and 1999 the team finally captured the Championship in 2000.
“I think we were a great support system for each other as we went through our first year. Having the other boys join us was more of a home coming. Sam [Forko] and I played at Langham Creek H.S. for 3 years together and Ryan [Brown], Chris [Gbandi] and Garrett [Grinsfelder] played 3 and 4 years together at Cy-Falls H.S.” said Edwin Rivera about the Houston players who went to UCONN. “From the soccer side of things, the best thing for the team was we were able to get Chris to commit to UCONN. Chris could of played for any school he wanted and the fact he chose UCONN was a huge win for the team. I'd like to think having the playing relationship we all had with Chris in Houston, made it an easier transition for him to come to CT.”
Turn off the humidity, turn on the cold
Leaving Texas also meant leaving behind the heat and humidity of the South. The average high in Storrs, CT, where UCONN is located, in October is 60 F while Houston’s average high for that same time is 81 F. The change in temperatures can be a shock to the system and make playing an outdoor sport even harder.
“For me personally, this was a difficult situation. I hate the cold weather - once it gets below 60 degrees, it's difficult for me to be outside,” said Edwin Rivera about the cold. “Unfortunately, at the time (at least in my mind) all of the good schools were north of Houston, so I felt if I wanted to play D1 soccer I was going to have to head north. And even though my recruiting trip was during a snow storm and we walked on a frozen pond - I still thought it was the best option for me. The reality is you have to adapt to the conditions, regardless of rain, heat, snow, cold, ice, etc. But once I graduated and left UCONN, I promised never to go back in the winter.”
Rivera wasn’t the only one who struggled with the new found cold weather. Garrett Grinsfelder also found the cold challenging but embraced it on the field. “It was a change for sure but if anything it helped us,” he said. “We were use to the heat and playing in the weather of Connecticut was a welcomed change. The off-seasons in the freezing cold was the hard part.”
In 1998, the team went out in the first round of the College Cup. They followed that up by making in to the semifinals in 1999 but it was 2000 when they finally claimed the Championship.
“The commitment it took to win it all and the determination has stayed with me my whole life.,” said Grinsfelder about how winning the Championship affected him. “I still to this day am very competitive and driven and a lot of that has to do with my college soccer experience, teammates, and coaches.”
Now 16 years removed from the accomplishment of winning a Championship still stays with the players.
“Soccer has been such a big part of my life as I've played ever since I was 8 years old,” said Rivera. “...Things like hard work, dedication, accountability, discipline, drive are all attributes that can be transferred and applied to any aspect of your life. Now that I'm old and retired, I'll do my best to pass along some of these principles to my kids, specifically my oldest who loves the game of soccer.”