Photo by Mykah Heaton
Senior defenseman Giovanny Vazquez entered the spotlight for the UVU men’s soccer team opening night. On the team’s fourth corner kick opportunity of the game against then-No. 13 Akron, Connor Salmon launched the ball in front of the net and Vazquez rose up and struck a header past the Akron goalkeeper. It would be the only goal of the night. UVU sent the Zips home with a 0-1 record.
If you’re only counting goals scored, that would have been the first you had ever heard of Vazquez. It was his first time putting the ball in the net wearing Wolverine green.
However, Vazquez does a lot more for the team than scoring. He is a big part of a stout Wolverine defense that allowed multiple goals in only five games in 2016 and boasted 10 shutouts, a trend that continued with the shutout of Akron to open 2017.
After redshirting in 2014, Vazquez’ first year at UVU, he was put into a starting role in 2015 and his development on the field has skyrocketed since then. Now, UVU head coach Greg Maas says Vazquez is one of the premiere defenders not only in the WAC but in the west region of the country.
“I think the whole team would tell you it’s night and day,” said Vazquez about his development since joining the team. “It’s just a totally different feel, even for myself and my confidence going into a game.”
“We have tremendous trust in Gio, not only as a staff but as a team,” said Maas. “He provides the confidence to the players in front of him to do what they need to do and trust that he’s behind them to help defend and keep opponents away from the goal.”
Maas rarely takes Vazquez off the field. In the 2016 season, he led the Wolverines in minutes played with 1,809. That’s 122 more minutes than any other UVU player. He was subbed out in only one game, missing the final 11 minutes of the 1-0 loss to UNLV in the WAC tournament. When the Wolverines are on the field, Vazquez is on the field.
Maas knows how much of a toll playing those kinds of minutes can take on a player’s body and has noticed how much effort Vazquez has put into keeping his body fit since joining UVU in 2014 after one year of club soccer at Weber State.
“Gio has done a phenomenal job of really focusing on his development both on the field and off of the field,” said Maas. “He took tremendous ownership in getting himself in shape and his overall fitness has been fantastic with the group. What he has done is embrace the opportunity that’s been given to him to develop into one of our most experienced and best leaders in the back.”
“You have to take care of your body every single day,” said Vazquez. “You have to be in the treatment room and you’ve just got to be smart and conscious of it every single day.”
The goal against Akron was Vazquez’ first, but it was far from his first chance to put one away. Maas called the goal “a long time coming.”
“He’s had so many chances over the past two years leading up to that where balls have hit the post and the crossbar. Goalkeepers have made phenomenal saves; balls have been cleared off the line defensively. He’s just been absolutely unfortunate,” said Maas. “He’s even hit his own teammates as the ball is going into the goal. To see that ball rip the back of the net against Akron was truly a special moment and a deserved moment for Gio.”
“It was amazing. I’ve been looking for that for the last two seasons now,” said Vazquez. “I’ve had chance after chance and it finally came against a huge team. I wouldn’t want it any different.”
Maas and Vazquez both hope the goal opened the floodgates for Vazquez’ scoring. Even if that’s not the case, though, he’ll still be there on the other end of the field, helping the Wolverines continue to flex their defensive muscles.
I grew up on a farm in Burley, Idaho, but I’ve always had an intense love of sports. I’m studying journalism in an attempt to turn my love into a career. I’m a huge Utah Jazz, Tennessee Titans, and San Jose Sharks fan. If it’s a sport, I’ll watch it.