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SPECIAL REPORT: The International Athletic Phenomenom at AWC

International athletes are at the heart of Arizona Western College's quest for NJCAA championships

YUMA, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) - Junior college sports typically feature players local to their schools, however, at Arizona Western College it brings together athletes from across the globe.

Out of the 130 total athletes on Matador rosters, 76 come from a country other than the United States. These athletes come to the US to try and make their dreams in athletics and beyond come true.

“The United States is probably the most competitive sport nation in the world," AWC basketball sophomore and Serbia native Matija Gledic said. "So that's probably why I wanted to come here just to see how I stand against best of the best.”

“The people who talk English in Spain, their work is really good," AWC soccer sophomore and Spain native Alvaro Hormigos said.

Having a world-wide recruiting base gives, the Matadors a competitive advantage.

"An english player brings different tactical approcaches than a player from Japan or Yuma or Phoenix, or Los Angeles," AWC head men's soccer coach Kenny Dale said. "So we try to get good blend of players from around the world including the United States. 

AWC coaches can't travel overseas so the coaches use the internet and social media to find overseas talent.

"We've been doing it for so long, we follow so many of the different international accounts that are promoting some of the kids," AWC head men's basketball coach Kyle Isaacs said. "Some of it would just be just people reposting or retweeting and just coming across their clips and their videos." 

The success of AWC teams on the national stage has made the Matadors an attractive destination and many recruits reach out the programs.

These days they often get in contact with us and are just willing to play here, "AWC assistant men's soccer coach and recruiting coordinator Admir Balicvac said, "We get multiple videos per day, you know, from 10 to 50 videos sent to us per day and from all over the world."

In many cases the juco route is more attractive to international athletes than Americans, especially since many junior college's do not have an English language requirement.

"Those international students, they're looking to get their foot in the door, maybe build up their language requirements, the academics," Balicvac said. "And then that way we can transfer them on to other schools later on down the line.”

Relationships with current and former players, also play a huge role in the recruiting process.

"Everyone we bring in has a little brother or a friend who's younger than them who may want to play in the United States,” Dale said.


One of he biggest draws to international recruits is the superb English as a Second Language (ESL) that AWC offers.

"So a lot of our players, if they have to go into the ESL program, they fit right in and those professors really take care of them," Dale said. "And many of the students who come here have taken English in their home countries.”

Despite the ESL program, the adjustment to learning and using English in the classroom is still very challenging.

“When I came here, the first year I studied was hard, but, like, I'd like a little time to adapt my brain to be able to study in English,” AWC basketball sophomore and France native Clem Pichard said.

"It is difficult when when you when you are not used to speak in English," Hormigos said. "Now stuff is going better, much better.”

According to a little over 7% of high school athletes go on to play a varsity sport in college. It's a big step up in competition, but an even bigger leap for international players.

"It's hard," Isaacs said. "You know, sometimes freshmen don't figure it out until the sophomore year, the American game is played so much faster, much more physical than the international game is.”

"The game here in the US is really like more intense," Pichard said. "When I came here the first year, like when I was practicing, my legs was burning and so I had the time to adapt my game to be more intense.”

Another hurdle coaches face is the development of team chemistry with players from so many different parts of the world .

"We use a lot of mixed groups," Dale said.  "If you just let 25 players go into a classroom, they'll just sit with their friends. So we plan the groups to have specific individual goals from specific countries. We give the players plenty of time on their own to socialize. One of the tactics we use is if we tell the players they need to meet somewhere at three, we might show up at 3:15.”

"You got so many different cultures, so many different languages at the beginning; so when they get here in August, September and October, we're just trying to do team bonding and team building," Isaacs said. "We have a saying in our program and it's LLTB and that means long live the brotherhood and whatever is good for the Brotherhood is always going to be what's good for you.”

The transition for international players is aided by the fact that they are not alone.

"Nobody's from Yuma, nobody's from United States," Gledic said. "You don't feel alone because I feel if it was all Americans I would feel like, Oh, I'm the only one. I mean, that's my thought process. When I first came here, when I saw there is a lot of other people just like me.”

Over their time in Yuma, international athletes grow as players and as young men and women.

“I grew a lot as a person, first of all then as a player," Gledic said. "You learn to live by yourself, how to do everything by yourself and it makes you tougher.” 

“I really learned about myself," Pichard said. "In france i was always with  friends family. I was not going out of my comfort zones and being here in the us I really am.”

The diversity and cultural experiences these athletes are exposed to during their time at AWC will pay dividends in their lives beyond college and sports.

“I like the blend our team has socially and culturally," Dale said. "All of that is more important than athletics. Academics, social connections, cultural understanding, thats more important than anything on the field, We ask them to be model citiiznes in the classroom and in the community.” 

International athletes will continue to chase championships at Arizona Western College for years to come and bring the values they learn in Yuma back to their home countries.

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Chas Messman

Chas Messman joined KYMA in July 2023 as News 11’s Sports Director. If you have any sports story ideas, send them to


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