Rookie of the Year: Alenis M. Santiago Morera

The annual Justas LAI are rapidly approaching and with that, the end of this year’s athletic season. As we anxiously await this year’s finals, let’s take a look into the Rookies of the Year from 2017-2018. Alenis Marie Santiago Morera is a second-year chemical engineering student who is also the forward striker for the UPRM Soccer team. Santiago’s athletic career began at age five when she started playing volleyball. At 14 years old, she turned to soccer in what she considers to be a seamless transition. Now, the nineteen-year-old has definitely made her mark in the UPRM soccer team because of her participation in key plays and defining games that lead to the team’s success.

 

 1 persona, practicando un deporte y exterior

Before making such a drastic change in her athletic career, Santiago went through a variety of sports like swimming and softball before settling herself in soccer. “I’ve always loved running and everything that has to do with physical activity,” said Santiago about her interest in playing soccer. This might be why she believes her strong point as forward striker is her speed. Although both sports are in opposite sides of what could be considered the athletic spectrum, one requiring mostly upper body coordination while the other focuses mainly on the work of the lower extremities. Santiago believes she adapted quickly to the change thanks to good training and hard work.

From the sport, the athlete has learned “commitment, responsibility, organization, effort and discipline,” said Santiago. It all started when Santiago took the first step into her development as a soccer player by joining the Taurinos in Cayey. In this team, she properly learned what the sport is. From there, she went to Club Gurabo in 2016 where the game was played a lot more aggressive. During this time, she also participated in the pre selection process for the under 17 division in Puerto Rico. This training helped Santiago refine her skills as a soccer player. Lastly, she joined Club Criollas in Caguas (2017) where they played a more sophisticated game. Here, she learned to focus more on the plays that can be executed rather than play an impulsive game. That same year she traveled with the Puerto Rican Soccer Federation to play against the universities of Notre Dame, Ball State and Bonaventure. Sadly, during a practice of the preselection process of the Puerto Rican under 20 division, Santiago sprained her ankle and was unable to move forward to qualifiers for the North and Central American and Caribbean Soccer Confederation (CONCACAF).

 1 persona, practicando un deporte, césped y exterior

Throughout her participation within these teams outside of UPRM, Santiago learned the difference between what she calls playing “pretty” and playing “ugly.” The main differences here lay in the style and the technique executed in each way of playing. What Santiago calls playing “ugly” is what she refers to as playing instinctively, violently and with an individualistic mindset; rather than mindfully, tactically, technically and with a team-oriented mentality which is what she calls playing “pretty.” When a player acts instinctively in the field, they give away the control of the game over to what could be a more technical/tactical opponent who will effectively play around them. The more mindful alternative, according to Santiago, comes from the knowledge of the field and a better notion of your teammates which creates a space for the players to execute more team-oriented plays which generally allow for more successful outcomes in the games.

According to Santiago, to be a part of a university team is a completely different experience from that of any other team. In a university setting, the teammates have to see each other every day, practice together every day and coexist every day. “We created a family. We have a bond stronger than any outside team could have,” said Santiago about her team. For her, the team is supportive beyond what goes on in the field and within her college life itself. They are all from different years and have different levels of experience which, according to Santiago, helps the elder teammates guide and advise the younger ones. Within her team, she understands there is always space for her improvement which is why she generally takes under advisement the commentaries from her more experienced teammates. Beyond that, there is a special pride that comes from being in a “Colegio” team and even more so when it is such a good one.

 una o varias personas, personas practicando deporte, niños y exterior

More than Santiago’s “Colegio” family, it is her parents and her family’s support that motivate her to continue to play soccer. It is thanks to her family, who never miss a game, that she keeps going; through all the frustrations and pressures a sport can exert over an athlete. For example, Santiago has to balance her studies and athletic commitments. Although she doesn’t know exactly how she does it, she mainly does her college work and studying during her free times between classes or stays up until the early hours of the morning after her practices end late at night. It is precisely the commitment Santiago made to the team when she first joined that prompts her to maintain the balance.

Sadly, being a student-athlete is becoming harder and harder to do. According to Santiago, many of the athletes on the team have to pay for half of their tuition; some don’t even have a stipend for their diets. “It so much sacrifice versus the benefits,” said Santiago about the cuts that have been made to the UPRM teams. If the cuts continue, it could threaten the very existence of the team because many of them would have to seek out jobs outside the university to support themselves and their education where the university no longer does. Most of the athletes come to the university for their education and do their sport because of the perks that come from representing the university but if those benefits are no longer there, what will motivate the athletes to continue to sacrifice themselves with little to no reward? Despite all of this, it is her “love of the art,” as Santiago puts it, and her commitment to her teammates that moves her to continue to give her all for her team.

 1 persona, practicando un deporte, de pie, estadio, niños, césped y exterior

Santiago’s ritual before every game is to eat a chocolate bar which she says gives her energy to run the entire game. She also listens to “reggaetón,” trap or rap music which gets her motivated. Nevertheless, she still gets nervous before the game, as most athletes do. Since the beginning of her career in UPRM’s team the pressure has been greater than before. She was the only rookie among the headliners for the team and was recovering from an injury she had suffered months before. She joined a team that had won to consecutive championships and that motivated her to face the challenges the season may throw her way. Sadly, the team made it to the finals but lost to their toughest opponent in the league. But, according to Santiago, the team did not take the loss in vain but instead turned it into motivation to leave their hearts on the field and win the championship. “We are focused on our objective which is winning and as long as we stay on that, we can win,” said Santiago about what she thinks will facilitate the win for her team.