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December 6, 2009

Loyola University soccer player shows faith in trying times Senior Cynthia Morote-Ariza played on Peru’s under- 20 women’s national team while at St. Ignatius Prep

By Neil Milbert


After being the Most Valuable Player in the Horizon League as a sophomore and junior and rewriting the Loyola University women’s soccer record book during the past three seasons, Cynthia Morote-Ariza had every reason to believe that her senior season would be a stepping stone to a professional career.

Then, during a spring training session with her summer league team, she took a shot and her right leg gave out. The diagnosis was a torn anterior cruciate ligament and in May she underwent surgery to repair the damage.

Instead of spending the summer on the soccer pitch, Morote-Ariza immersed herself in the painful and tedious process of rehabilitating her knee. When the season began Aug. 22, she was still at least six weeks away from getting the release from her doctor to begin light practice and it was uncertain when she would be able to start playing in games.

“As much as we want her, I would be surprised if she plays at all this year,” lamented Loyola coach Frank Mateus. “We don’t want to rush her back and have her go all through that again.”

‘I thank God’

Instead of bemoaning her misfortune, Morote-Ariza is counting her blessings.

“I thank God every day for the fact that everything is going so well after my surgery,” she says. “I come from a Catholic family in St. Mary of the Angels Parish. I was raised as a Catholic. My faith has always been pretty strong. I have always relied on my faith. It has helped me a lot in this situation.”

Morote-Ariza is a daughter of Salvador Morote, a native of Peru, and Catalina Ariza, a native of Columbia. Her father was an assistant coach with the Loyola men’s soccer team for seven seasons and when she was a child she came to Loyola soccer camps.

Even though she was born in Chicago, Cynthia also has Peruvian citizenship through her father’s roots and Columbian citizenship through her mother’s. While in high school at St. Ignatius College Prep, she was a member of Peru’s under-20 women’s national team that earned the gold medal at the 2005 Bolivarian Games.

Didn’t plan on Loyola

Morote-Ariza’s stellar Peruvian international, Illinois state champion club team and high school credentials made her a coveted college recruit.

“We weren’t really looking for a Catholic university,” she remembers. “We were first concerned with the academics and then the soccer side. I didn’t want to go far from home and I wanted to stay in a big-city area. Although I knew Brendan Eitz, who is now the men’s coach and was the women’s coach when my dad coached here, I didn’t know a lot about the women’s program.”

Loyola was one of the last schools she visited.

“I loved it right away. I really liked the coaching staff and I felt a level of comfort with the coaches and the girls right away. It wasn’t a huge program compared to the Big Ten schools but I knew that by coming here with their help we could try to create something bigger and compete with the top programs in the country. And the fact that Loyola was a Catholic university was a huge plus.”

Mateus was aware of Morote- Ariza’s ability. He is in his fifth season as the Loyola women’s coach after working extensively on the club level and coaching both men’s and women’s high school and collegiate teams. His resume includes Chicago-area stints at Benedictine University, Notre Dame High School and St. Viator High School.

“I came [to Loyola] from the club side and I’d watched her play since she was 10 or 11,” says Mateus. “I knew she could make an impact anywhere she went. There’s no doubt we got fortunate when we got Cynthia.”

The impact was immediate and enduring. In 2006, the Ramblers were the Horizon League Tournament champions and Mateus was selected Coach of the Year. In 2007 they repeated as Horizon League tournament titlists and last year they won a share of the regular season championship (before losing in the championship game of the tournament).

During those three seasons Morote- Ariza contributed 44 goals and 37 assists, breaking Loyola’s career records of 27 goals and 21 assists established by women who competed for four years. She also set or equaled school single-season records every year.

“We’ve upgraded our schedule every year and she has gotten better every year,” says Mateus. “She has grown into a better player and a better leader. She holds every record but more importantly that’s not what she’s about. She really cares about her teammates and wants to win. She doesn’t want to be the star; she just wants to be Cynthia.”