By Bill Sheehan
In a game at UC Irvine in October 2017, Cal State Fullerton soccer player Alba Barrios leaped for a header, was knocked off-balance by someone underfoot and landed awkwardly on her right leg. When she limped off the pitch, she assumed the worst.
"As soon as I heard the loud popping sound, I knew," said Barrios, whose team lost the game 1-0. "My brother Carlos had torn his ACL playing soccer. At first it was super-painful. I was crying, but it was more that I was scared."
Barrios, who had been coming back from a quadriceps injury to the same leg, was diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn meniscus. Her brother's experience provided insight into what she would deal with in the months ahead. Three weeks later as she underwent surgery, Barrios told herself, "The recovery starts now."
After undergoing a year of rehabilitation and taking the 2018 season off, the redshirt senior is back for her final year with the Titans. Fullerton launches its season Saturday at 3 p.m. with the Blue/Orange exhibition scrimmage at Titan Stadium. Afterward, the team will hold its Kick-Off Fundraiser at 5 p.m. at the Golleher Alumni House.
"I want to help my team win a Big West Conference championship," said Barrios, who is a center-defensive midfielder and expected to be a starter. "I have been on the team when we have won conference championships in the past. But coming into my last year, being a fifth-year, being a captain, I just feel a different responsibility. I have to lead from the forefront. I'm ready to do it. I've waited since 2017 to play."
Barrios, 22, has been with 13th-year head coach Demian Brown for nearly half of his tenure at Fullerton. He applauds her drive and determination in overcoming her injuries.
"Alba has done a fantastic job. It was a heart-breaking injury at the time. She handled it well, and she has done an awesome job with her rehab. It was important not to have her rush back," Brown said of Barrios, who received medical clearance to resume playing last November.
"She has done some amazing things over the years. As a freshman, she scored the game-winning goal against Long Beach State in the Big West tournament final. She really has been an anchor for our midfield group and has been an emotional and vocal leader," Brown said.
Barrios 'handles the dirty work'
Atlanta Primus, a senior forward from England, has played alongside Barrios for three seasons. She calls her teammate an indispensable member of the squad. "Defensively, Alba plays a big role. She covers a lot of ground, brings stability and does a lot of the dirty work that gets overlooked. Without her, our team wouldn't be as strong in the back."
"Leadership comes naturally to her, but she wouldn't say that herself," said Primus, who also is a team captain. "Alba leads by example on and off the field, that's why everyone respects her. She has shown no fear coming back from her knee injury, which has been inspiring for our younger players."
The Titans reached the Big West tournament final twice in Barrios' first three years, winning the crown both times. But while she was sitting out last season, the team fell to 4-12-3 overall and 1-5-2 in conference. "Last year wasn't a good season – we didn't play critically well in certain moments. Most games were decided by one goal. But it was a really good experience for us.
"I don't think we are far from turning it around. We have lots of talent and a strong nucleus this season. It's just about making little tweaks," said Barrios. "We really focused this spring on capitalizing on our big moments. It's those one or two moments that decide a game."
Barrios, who started playing the sport as a 4-year-old, comes from a soccer family. Her parents, Carlos and Evelyn, who work in construction and as a housekeeper respectively, immigrated from Guatemala in 1992. Carlos, who became a U.S. citizen four years ago, is still playing soccer at age 51. Her older brother Carlos lettered at Santiago Canyon College in Orange. Her other three siblings, Evelyn, Jennifer and Rick, all played youth soccer. Barrios is the middle child.
Born in Santa Ana, she began playing in Sunday co-ed leagues and moved on to AYSO and AYSO Select. She then had stints with the Strikers, Slammers FC, and the L.A. Galaxy club teams. Jeff Schofield was her coach on the Galaxy. "I had known him since I was 7. He was a really good coach and later guided me toward Cal State Fullerton."
At Estancia High School in Costa Mesa where she played for Jessica Perry, Barrios was a first-team All-Orange Coast League all four years. As a senior, Barrios was the 2015 Newport-Mesa Girls' Soccer Play of the Year and named the Orange Coast League MVP. She also earned first-team All-CIF Southern Section honors as a junior and a senior.
Alba Barrios, a redshirt senior for the Titan women's soccer team, is a business administration major with a concentration in finance. She is aiming for a career as a certified financial planner.
Photo by Bill Sheehan
Many reasons for choosing Fullerton
She said choosing Fullerton was an easy decision. "I'm very close with my family and I wanted to give them a chance to see me play. I wanted to attend the university's business school. The soccer program and the coaching staff are excellent, and the soccer stadium is one of the best in the country. It quickly felt like home after I arrived," she said.
Barrios appeared in 20 games as a freshman, starting five games and scoring twice. She notched a goal in a 4-2 win at Idaho State. Her game-winner against Irvine clinched the Titans' third straight NCAA tournament berth. She started in 12 games as a sophomore and 11 as a junior.
"Every year I have progressed as an athlete and a soccer player," she said. "I've had a lot of injuries that played a bigger role than I would have liked. In my junior year, I was out five to six weeks with my right quad injury. But that's part of the game."
Barrios did her post-surgery recovery at the Physical Therapy & Sports Rehabilitation center on campus. I had the most amazing experience," she said. [Physical therapist] Nathan Longcrier, was monumental in my recovery and the best person I could have had."
"Demian said to take the full year to recover. The longer you wait, the better your graft will do and the stronger the new ACL will be. I thought, 'I'm not going to play until 2019.' It seemed like a long time for me. Emotionally, that was one of the hardest things. But now I can play. I can be normal."
Her brother Carlos said he was concerned at times during the weeks after her surgery. "Alba has always been pretty independent. But she was kind of second-guessing herself the first couple of months. 'She wondered, 'What If I don't come back as the same player?'
"But she worked hard and stayed determined. There were some setbacks and struggles, but she pushed through. She is in great shape physically and mentally. This should be a great year for her," said Carlos, who is the head coach of the boys' soccer team at Canyon High School in Anaheim. He is also an assistant coach for the men's team at Golden West College in Huntington Beach and directs boys' teams for the Placentia/Yorba Pateadores Club.
Carlos said his sister is a complete player. "Alba never gives up. She is 110% committed to what she is doing. She plays hear heart out every single game and is three to four steps ahead of everyone else, which helps her gain speed."
She rejoined Estancia High as a coach
Barrios not only plays soccer, she coaches soccer. After graduating from Estancia High, she became an assistant coach at her alma mater for then-rookie head coach Josh Juarez.
"When I got the job in 2015, I wanted to find someone who could link with the girls and the school. I offered the job to Alba and she accepted. Being a real hard worker and playing for a Div. 1 school, she was someone the girls could look up to right away."
"Alba has grown as a coach every year. I think sitting out at Fullerton last year made her even a better coach because she was busy taking in how the coaches worked on the sidelines. She can now run a group or one-on-one sessions for us. She gives our team valuable feedback at
halftime and after the game. She could choose a career path in coaching, if that is something that interests her," said Juarez.
Barrios has had to hone her time management skills during her college years. Besides her academics and athletics at Fullerton and her Estancia coaching gig, she is a student assistant at the university's Mihaylo College of Business and Economics' Financial Planning Program. She also works for Event Staff at sporting events on campus.
On a typical day last spring, she would get up at 6 a.m. for morning practice with the Titan team, attend classes, drive to Costa Mesa in the afternoon to coach the Estancia team and return to Fullerton for a night class. "Coaching at Estancia has been the best experience," said Barrios. "I love the program and I want to give back to it any way I can."
Barrios, who likes going to the beach during her limited down time, will graduate this spring with a business administration degree with a concentration in finance and envisions a career as a certified financial planner. "Originally, I was going to be a finance major. I liked numbers. But I wasn't passionate about it. I wanted to choose a career with a really good work-life balance and a flexible schedule.
An urge to help people with finances
"I want to work with people and clients and help them realize their financial goals and answer their questions such as 'How can I save for a mortgage or my child's college?' My parents never went to high school and didn't have that financial literacy. I want to gain this knowledge and help them save for retirement," said Barrios.
She served an internship with Modern Woodmen of American, a member-owned financial services organization that contributes more than $10 million yearly to community needs across the country. Along with a financial-services mentor, Alba provided free financial advice to low-income families in connection with the Habitat for Humanity program.
As if her schedule wasn't busy enough, Barrios was recently invited to play with the Guatemalan national team. Barrios, who has dual citizenship, joined the national team for workouts during a family vacation to Guatemala in 2015.
"I got a call-up in July," she said. "With school and my coaching job, it would be difficult to go back and forth to Guatemala now. However, it is something I might consider down the road."
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For more parking information or to purchase a permit online click HERE or go to parking.fullerton.edu.
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