By EARL WATT
• Daily Leader
Last year DJ Zuniga saw the season come to an end in a heartbreaking home loss in the playoffs, preventing the Liberal Redskins from returning to the Final Four at state.
This year, Zuniga hit the winning goal to send his Garden City Community College Broncbusters to the national tournament in Phoenix, Ariz.
Zuniga is the only active Liberal player on the team. Teammates Oscar Campos and Valentin Rios were both redshirted this season.
Zuniga has been a starter and has also come off the bench, but he has received significant playing time in what may be Garden City’s best soccer season ever.
“This is an awesome opportunity for DJ,” Liberal soccer coach Lori Navarro said. “For him to find a team that has the success he was used to here was good for him. They have a top-of-the-line program at Garden City Community College.”
Garden had to pull some upsets to make the national tournament. The Broncbusters are ranked No. 7 in the nation, and they had to play No.
2 Barton County in the semifinals of Region 6.
The game ended in a 1-1 tie and went to penalty kicks. Garden City won the shootout 4-3 and advanced to the district playoff.
The Broncbusters faced No. 5 Jefferson Mo., and earned a 1-0 win on Zuniga’s goal.
Playing in a big game is nothing new to Zuniga who qualified for the state tournament twice as a Redskins.
“The fact that you’ve been there makes a difference,” Navarro said.
“We know we go against tough teams. We expect it. It doesn’t phase us. A new team is a little reluctant, they don’t realize the level of competition. Everyone wants it, and no one gets there by luck.”
Zuniga’s run for titles should be an aid for the Broncbusters in Arizona. HIs talent helped the Redskins, but the college level provides a new level of challenges.
“Playing with other players with the same ability has made DJ sharper,” Navarro said. “It has disciplined him a lot. At that level, it’s not just about having talent, it;s how you use it. He has developed into a more mature player, and he knows his responsibilities.”
Garden’s 18-1-1 record earned a No. 4 seed at the eighth-team national tournament.
Zuniga and the Broncbusters will face Georgia Perimeter at 3 p.m. today.
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