Alex having a great summer |

Alex having a great summer

So much for a lazy summer before heading off for his freshman year of college. Not that Alex Romagnolo would want one anyways, but his last fleeting youth has flown by faster than a Mia Hamm penalty kick rocketing past a Chineese goalkeeper.

The 1999 South Tahoe High graduate started the summer by helping the Reno United Under 19 soccer club win the Nevada State Cup. Then came the news that his first college choice – University San Diego – had a ROTC scholarship available for him, allowing him to try out for one of the country’s top college soccer programs. Finally, the 18-year-old Romagnolo was scooped up a few weeks back by the semi-pro Nevada Zephyrs.

“It’s nice to see a kid who works hard get rewarded. It’s a great opportunity for him and I’m sure he’ll take advantage of it,” said his former high school coach Joe Winters.

The most unexpected development for Romagnolo is joining the men’s pro soccer team in Reno.

“I thought I’d just be working out, running on my own and playing soccer with some high school guys. I never expected to be playing on a semi-pro team. It’s really exciting and a lot of fun, too,” he said.

Luckily, Romagnolo has shared the introduction to professional soccer with other players fresh out of high school – Aaron Dickens of McQueen and Derek Orchard of Reno.

“We were the young guys and at first it was kind of shaky. I don’t know if they really thought we could play with them. But after we played in the first game and went out and proved ourselves, they have really treated us as their teammates,” Romagnolo said.

As well they should.

Dickens scored the game-winner on an assist from Orchard as the Zephyrs upset Premier Development Soccer League’s Southwest Division leader San Fernando Valley 1-0 last Friday at Wooster High in Reno. Romagnolo, the 1998 Northern Nevada League defensive player of the year, also made significant contributions from his left back position on defense, playing most of the second half.

They made coach Rob Moreland look pretty smart for taking a chance on them.

“That’s why I like them,” said the Zephyrs coach who doubles as the Reno High coach during the fall. “You never know, but you have to throw them out there and hope they do well. I have confidence in them all.

“A lot of other kids could be in that situation … all it takes is for the kids to decide that they want to do it. These three have the personal drive that they need to excel.”

Moreland, whose team is fighting for one of the division’s two playoff spots, hasn’t spared any feelings in interjecting the Zephyrs with youthful enthusiasm for their playoff drive.

“Our record of 5-8 isn’t so good and we have to do something to make it better,” Moreland said. “It’s been a disruption as far as hard feelings, but that’s part of competition. But everyone has been working hard because I can only suit up 18 guys and I have 25 on the team.

“Every year I want to do the same, develop the area and bring them along. It lets the other area kids know that there is a place for them to go if they show the want and the desire.”

Romagnolo is treating his brief exposure to the pro ranks as a learning experience.

“It’s hard work, but it’s also a lot of fun. Compared to high school it’s a huge step and compared to our club team it’s only a little higher. The talent and speed of the game is much better, but it’s a good experience to get me ready for college next year,” Romagnolo said.

Reno United coach Mike Simpson gets that giddy feeling – not unlike a proud papa – when he talks about Romagnolo’s contributions to their state cup run.

“He has great control of the ball, he’s got a great attitude. He’s just a leader on the field and off the field. All the guys love playing with him,” said Simpson, whose club defeated Nemesis 3-2 in overtime to claim the championship with a flawless record. “He’s also one of the most intelligent players I’ve ever coached for that age group. He’s humble to work with as are all the veteran players on our team, and he’s got a lot of maturity for an 18-year-old.”

What impressed Simpson as much as anything about Romagnolo is his team devotion.

“We practiced four days a week at Reno High and I can only think of a handful of practices he missed during a two-month period,” Simpson said. “I think has a great amount of enthusiasm that will help the Zephyrs a lot.”

Few question whether Romagnolo has the talent and desire to play for a solid NCAA program like the Toreros.

“After a couple years of college ball I think Alex will become really good,” Moreland said.

“I’m one of his supporters. I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. He can definitely play Division I ball,” Simpson said. “Someone is getting a pretty good deal with him walking on. I know what it takes to play at that level, and he’s got it.”

He’ll try out for the Toreros – where another Viking grad, Brian Bruso, starred on the basketball court – during a one-week look in the middle of August.

“They have one of the best programs in the country. Four years ago, they lost to Virginia in the finals and last year they lost to Stanford in the second round of the tournament,” said Romagnolo, whose backup plan was to attend St. Mary’s.

Winters knows better than most what San Diego coach Seamus McFadden is getting.

“That coach will fall in love with him after a few weeks. He’s got great work ethic, never complains and he’s always been our blue-collar player. If you need a guy to play hard and set an example for others, Alex was always that guy. He’s put so much hard work into the game, it’s great to see it happen for him,” Winters said.

Romagnolo and the rest of the Zephyrs will try to enhance their playoff chances this weekend when they play host to the San Gabriel Highlanders for games at 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Wooster. Admission is $3.

By the way, Moreland hinted that the three teen-agers will surely be among the 18 he suits up this weekend.

Moreland knows something special when he sees it.

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