BBA's Navarrete will play soccer at Saint Michael's

MANCHESTER — Before she knew she wanted to play soccer at Saint Michael's College, Burr and Burton Academy senior Aisha Navarrete recognized from visiting a friend on campus that she wanted to attend the Burlington-area school.

It turned out the Purple Knights' coach knew about Navarrete as a player, too, having seen her play in the 2017 Division I state championship game. The Bulldogs didn't win that day, but Navarrete's efforts were noticed — and eventually led to her signing a letter on Friday sealing her commitment to play NCAA Division II soccer for the Purple Knights.

A team captain and Division I all-state selection as a senior at BBA, Navarrete, a midfielder and defender, signed the letter in the lobby of the E.H. Henry gymnasium, surrounded by teammates, family and friends, and balloons in BBA green and gold and Saint Michael's purple and white.

"It's very overwhelming but I'm so so excited," Navarrete said. "I feel very grateful for the opportunity. "

A National Honor Society member who is bilingual and plans to become an immigration lawyer, Navarrete reached out to SMC coach Wendy Elles about the potential for joining the program having already visited campus. It turned out Elles already knew all about Navarrete.

"She reached back to me and said saw me play in the [2017] State Championship game, and was happy with way I played," Navarrete said.

An official visit followed, "and I fell in love with the school," Navarrete said. "Everyone I talked to, including alumni and people go there, what they say about the [college] community is exactly what I'm looking for ... It has my major, I can play soccer and it's such a welcoming community there. I knew that was where I wanted to be."

Elles said she is "really excited" to have Navarrete joining the program.

"I expect her to come in and increase the competitiveness of our team. Aisha embodies the core values of our program and will be a wonderful representative of our women's soccer program on and off the field," Elles said. "There is a selfless quality and versatility about Aisha that is rare in today's soccer world. She is a great athlete, a fierce competitor, and has the ability to read the game very well."

Elles noted that Navarrete's coach at BBA, Suzanne Mears, also played at SMC.

"[Mears'] coaching philosophy aligns well with what we are doing here at SMC. Aisha will be a tremendous addition - not only what she can accomplish on the field but her willingness to make a difference in this world, too."

"Aisha has been a pleasure to coach over these past two years and I extremely proud of her accomplishments," Mears said. "As a captain this past season Aisha was well respected by her teammates and coaches and led by example each day."

"I have no doubt with her level of skill, work ethic, heart and determination she will succeed at the next level," Mears added. "I look forward to continuing to follow her growth as a player and wish her all the best."

At BBA, Navarrete is one of the school's student ambassadors and a freshman mentor, as well as an organizer for student participation in last year's March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C.

Navarrete started her high school career at Long Trail School, which she attended from seventh grade through her sophomore year. Playing for her father, Rene Navarrete, she made the Marble Valley League's all-league team as a freshman and as a sophomore and was all-state and team captain her sophomore year. She transferred to BBA as a junior, helping the team reach its third straight Division I state final.

She's eyeing a major in political science, and potentially a double major in international studies, to prepare her for law school and a career in immigration law.

"Definitely when President Trump got elected that pushed me to get involved and be more [politically] aware," Navarrete said. "Also that specific topic hits close to home. My dad's from Mexico, my brother was born there and I lived there ... that culture is close to home."

Navarrete credits the Capital United Premier Soccer program, which she joined in the sixth grade, for giving her a strong skills foundation, and singled out the mentoring of coaches including Mears, Ian Akin, Liz Villamil, Keith Villamil and Brett Woodard. But she saved special recognition to her "most influential coach, my dad."

She lives in Pawlet with her father, her mother, Megan Cancio-Bello, and her younger brother Nahui, 11.

The signing continues a recent run of BBA girls' soccer players joining the college ranks.

Breukelen Woodard, who signed with South Carolina out of BBA, transferred to Penn and started 12 of 13 games for the Quakers in 2018 as a sophomore. Hannah Pinkus, in her freshman season at Colgate, started in 13 of 17 games at midfield in 2018. Her sister, Grace Pinkus, currently a junior at BBA, has verbally committed to play at UMass. And at Williams, sophomore midfielder Georgia Lord helped the Ephs win a second straight NCAA Division III women's championship.


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