It’s no secret that Pima women’s soccer has enjoyed much success over the years under undaunted head coach Kendra Veliz, who battled breast cancer in recent years before being diagnosed as cancer free in 2018.
In a season affected by COVID-19 protocol last year, the Aztecs kept their competitiveness and advanced to the NJCAA Region I, Division II final match.
The achievement was memorable despite the loss to Phoenix College.
Seventh-ranked Pima (12-4, 7-3 in ACCAC) closed out the 2021 regular season on Saturday with a 3-1 loss against visiting Arizona Western College.
The Aztecs are again in the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the NJCAA Region I, Division II tournament.
They will host No. 3-seeded Scottsdale Community College in the semifinals on Tuesday at the West Campus Aztec Soccer Field part of the Chapman Automotive Sports Complex. Game time is set for 6:00 p.m.
Pima’s success can be attributed to Veliz, their inspirational and tactical leader.
She recently notched her 250th victory at Pima when the Aztecs defeated Paradise Valley.
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Veliz had no idea that she had reached such an important mark in her career. Once she realized the accomplishment, she was proud to share the honor with her student-athletes.
“To be honest I was unaware of the significance,” she said. “Ray Suarez, our SID (Sports Information Director), mentioned it to me and I was very surprised when the girls dumped water on me. I’m proud to be a part of the Pima Community College athletic community.
“Our coaches and administration work hard to provide a memorable student-athlete experience. The great majority of the women’s soccer team has consisted of local players from Tucson and surrounding areas so I am especially proud that Pima has a strong program for these student-athletes to compete and continue their education.”
Veliz has won multiple coach of the year awards and is a three-time ACCAC champion. She is also a multiple NJCAA region champion. She coached the Aztecs to a third-place finish in the 2007 NJCAA national championship tournament.
Veliz graduated from Sahuaro High School in 1991 and went on to play soccer at Boston College. She returned to Tucson after graduating with a major in Math in 1995.
After securing her United States soccer coaching license, she coached the Tucson Youth Club. Pima hired her in 2001.
“Once my competitive days of playing were over, I had to find another way to keep soccer in my life,” she said. “Originally, I took the job as an assistant coach at Pima to learn under one of the best coaches I had ever known — Chris Hawken. He created a successful program from the start.
“I want each team and individual to be the best that they can be.”
Veliz has coached the Aztecs to a 251-103-23 record since joining the program.
Coaching a soccer team for many years may seem like rigorous work, but to Veliz, every minute is a privilege.
“The work for me is the administrative stuff,” she said. “The soccer part — planning, analyzing, adjusting, practicing (and) relating is hard to consider work. I’m blessed to be able to get paid for doing what I love.”
Veliz has learned many lessons and gained even more lasting memories over her years of coaching at Pima.
Some of her favorite ones are seeing her student-athletes talk about how much they cherished being a part of her program.
“I love when the alumni reminisce about the positive experience they had at Pima and how happy they are to have been a part of the soccer program,” she said. “It also makes me extremely happy when I receive bachelor-degree graduation announcements.”
Veliz plans to continue her coaching career at Pima for as long as she can.
It would be easy for most teams to get overconfident considering the roll they have been on, but Veliz believes the Aztecs have a different approach.
“Right now we are taking it game by game, trying to put ourselves in the best possible position to be successful,” she said. “This is a talented team but so are the teams we will come up against in the playoffs.
“If we play our best, I believe we have a shot.”
NOTE: Before Saturday’s game, the Aztecs recognized departing sophomores Kaitlyn Bassett (Sabino), Saydee Guzman (Cienega), Litycia Espinoza (Sahuarita), Alyssa Kopach (Ironwood Ridge), Dulcenella Yebra (Tucson), Kortney Cahill (Cienega), Twyla Himmel (Ironwood Ridge) and Seti Valencia (Sunnyside).
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Nathaniel Martinez is an aspiring sports journalist who is a Sahuaro High School graduate and Pima Community College student. He has written for the Aztec Press at Pima. While at Sahuaro, he played football for longtime coach Scott McKee and he wrestled for the Cougars.