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La Familia

Oct 12, 2020
Maricarmen Reyes, Karina Rodriguez, Viviana Villacorta and Jillian Martinez

By Joy Hong

There is no doubt that family has played a huge role in the successful journeys of UCLA women's soccer players Maricarmen Reyes, Karina Rodriguez, Viviana Villacorta and Jillian Martinez.

Reyes, the youngest of three Santa Ana-raised siblings, was in elementary school when her older brothers played collegiately.

The eldest, Jorge, played at UC Irvine in 2009 and 2010. The second-oldest, Oscar, played for the UCLA men's soccer team from 2008-11 and was a member of the Bruins' 2011 College Cup squad. Ten years later, Maricarmen followed in Oscar's footsteps, joining the Bruin women's team and later going on to compete in a College Cup herself in 2019.

Maricarmen and Oscar share another soccer commonality: playing at a World Cup. Maricarmen represented Mexico at the 2020 and 2018 FIFA U-20 World Cups, while Oscar represented the U.S. at the 2019 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup.

"Having two older brothers who played collegiately and professionally really helped pave the way for me," said the junior midfielder. "Soccer was our way out of our city, and through all the adversity it came with, it opened many doors for us after many years of dedication. I always felt motivated and inspired to be like Oscar, and today, I feel blessed to wear the four letters on my chest as he did."

Also following an older sibling's footsteps to Westwood was senior defender Rodriguez, who was in high school when her older sister Anika first arrived in Westwood in 2015. Karina joined her in 2017, playing with Anika for three seasons and at two College Cups before Anika graduated in December 2019 and moved on to a professional soccer career.

"The three years we had together on the field and in Westwood were truly a gift from God," Rodriguez said. "We got to grow together as people and spend quality time building so many memories. Being able to see each other grow on and off the field was very special to the both of us, and we are both very thankful to have had each other in the times of need, and also in the times of joy."

Villacorta also has older soccer-playing siblings, former UC Merced players Vanessa and Veronica, whose paths she followed to the collegiate game. The Lawndale native has also competed internationally as a starter for the U.S. U-20 team at the 2018 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

"Growing up watching my sisters play inspired me to follow in their footsteps," Villacorta said. "Seeing them work hard and sacrifice so much motivated me to do the same and aspire to play at a university as prestigious as UCLA. I'm grateful to have such great influences and supporters like my family in my life."

Being close to home is a comfort for Villacorta, as well as for the other Southern California Bruins.

"Having my family at games means the world to me," Villacorta said. "Seeing my entire family in the stands when I walk out on the field gives me a sense of pride and joy. They have sacrificed so much to provide for me and get me where I am today."

For Rodriguez, the ability to support her three younger siblings influenced her decision to attend UCLA, saying it was of "upmost importance" to her to be close to her hometown of Torrance.

"I wanted to have the ability to drive home when needed and be able to support my siblings with their endeavors as they have supported me throughout my soccer career," Rodriguez said. "I also wanted my family to be able to attend games … this is truly a dream come true."

Reyes also said seeing her family in the stands at every home game is something she always looks forward to on gamedays.

"Their unconditional love and support on and off the field means so much to me, and I wouldn't be where I am today without them," Reyes stated. "My mom is my biggest cheerleader, and hearing her loud voice and cheers during games always makes me smile."

As close as these three Bruins are to home, freshman forward/midfielder Martinez is on the other side as an out-of-state student-athlete.

Martinez, who arrived in Westwood in August, said support from her family has made her transition smoother. Having moved over a thousand miles away from San Antonio, the 2020 Texas Gatorade State Player of the Year said she remains in close contact with her family despite the distance.

"It was difficult to leave because we are a very close family," Martinez said. "But because my family is so supportive, it made it easier for me. They were beaming with pride the day I left for UCLA, even though they had tears in their eyes. I knew they were happy for me."

Martinez's family has made significant sacrifices to help advance her soccer dreams, making a four-hour round-trip commute from San Antonio to North Austin in order for her to play for one of the top club teams in South Texas.

After work, her mother Lorraine would pick Martinez up from school and drive two hours to Austin, while her father Larry, a former collegiate soccer player, would stay home with Martinez's younger sister Brooke to help with her soccer and schoolwork.

"We were not able to spend a lot of time together during the week, but we all knew it would pay off, and we all understood why it had to be done," Martinez said. "Looking back, as a family we wouldn't change a thing because soccer means everything to us."

Through the ups and downs of these Bruins' journeys, their families are what got them past the adversity they faced – all for accomplishing their goals and dreams.

"In the words of my dad, 'Soccer is Life,'" Martinez said. "He would always tell me you are not only learning soccer, but you are learning about life while playing the sport you love."