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Valley Isle Soccer Academy players see their hard work pay off with college opportunities

Valley Isle Soccer Academy players Kami Echiverri (from left), Lauren Mitra, Jena Johannes and Caetlyn Johannes gather before practice on Tuesday in Kihei. All four plan to play soccer in college — Echiverri at Linfield, Mitra at Louisiana Tech, Jena Johannes at New Mexico State and Caetlyn Johannes at Arizona State. The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photo

KIHEI — As they gathered for practice Tuesday afternoon at Piikea Park — the sunken soccer field nestled on a side street behind Safeway in South Maui — this foursome all wore wide smiles.

Caetlyn Johannes, Lauren Mitra and Kami Echiverri all know time is running down on their careers for the Valley Isle Soccer Academy. Jena Johannes had to wonder what she will do for the next year without her older sister and teammates.

The four VISA standouts have all secured college soccer opportunities — the older three have all signed, while Jena Johannes has verbally committed to New Mexico State University.

The leader of the pack is Caetlyn Johannes, who has had significant time in U.S. national team camps at a couple different age groups. She is headed to Arizona State.

“I’m really grateful because all of the hard work that I have put in throughout the years has finally paid off,” Caetlyn Johannes said. “To see that I’m already set for the next chapter of my life is pretty great.”

She paid homage to VISA coaches Aleks and Rebecca Filipovic. She has played for VISA since she was 9 years old, along with the other three on hand Tuesday.

“Having coach Aleks and coach Rebecca to guide me through my years was an inspiring journey because working with them, they have really focused on player development,” Caetlyn Johannes said. “We didn’t win a lot as a team and that wasn’t really the main point. The main point was developing ourselves and improving every day.

“This is the outcome of that, so that’s pretty great.”

Caetlyn Johannes realizes that four players from the same age group team landing college opportunities is rare. She looks at her younger sister and smiles.

“I think it’s really cool that she got an offer from New Mexico State and I’m very proud of her,” Caetlyn Johannes said. “I can’t wait to play against her and I’m not going to lose.”

Jena Johannes said she is solid on her commitment to NMSU, but has recently received offers from Nevada and Hawaii. She said traveling the recruitment trail during the COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy.

“I think that (NMSU) is the best fit for me soccer-wise and academically,” Jena Johannes said. “It was definitely challenging, but it was very relieving — even though it was virtual — and I got it done, I was just happy to have my decision done.”

Jena Johannes said her older sister has helped immensely all along the way.

“She’s helped me a lot to realize my potential that I have, especially to play D-I soccer,” Jena Johannes said. “Just to raise my competitiveness all along, especially since we didn’t play high school, she always made me competitive.”

The entire foursome are Maui High School students — the Johanneses did not play for the Sabers, but Mitra and Echiverri did.

Mitra was a first-team Maui Interscholastic League All-Star as a junior. She is headed to Louisiana Tech to continue her career.

“Originally I committed to St. Mary’s College in California the ending of my sophomore year, but then I come to find out that my coach’s contract wasn’t getting renewed,” Mitra said. “So everyone who verbally committed there lost their scholarship. It is kind of funny how I landed at Louisiana Tech, but it was such a blessing.”

The roster for LaTech reminded Mitra of the melting pot she grew up in on Maui.

“Originally my heart was set on the west coast, obviously because of Hawaii and closer to home,” Mitra said. “But Louisiana Tech, on their team, the players are so diverse — they’re from Sweden, from Spain, and Japan. The coaches were super welcoming, the campus from what I’ve seen is beautiful. Haven’t been there yet because of the whole pandemic, but super blessed to go there.

“I had a criteria of what I wanted in a college and they fit everything except for being on the west coast, but it didn’t really matter to me because of how homey it was already without even actually being there.”

Echiverri was an MIL All-Star honorable mention selection as a junior — she is headed to NCAA Division III Linfield University in McMinnville, Ore.

“My sister goes to Pacific, about 45 minutes away,” Echiverri said. “I knew I wanted to go somewhere, I wanted to play D-III just because I wanted to focus more on my studies. I wasn’t really sure where exactly I wanted to go, but when I was talking to my sister about it and she had a friend who goes to Linfield.

“So I started looking into Linfield, got in touch with their coach, visited the college and I verbally committed last February. It turned out perfect because it was before all of the pandemic stuff happened. I just really love their style of play, I really love what they’re doing because it reminds me of what coach Aleks tries to do over here.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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