From Morocco to Santa Clara
Nov. 19, 2004
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -
By Jacklyn Ruiz
A little boy kicks a soccer ball over his shoulder, kicks it back in front of him, and then up to his knee with complete ease, on a street in Morocco. Without missing a beat, his juggling skills improve everyday. Little does he know it is these very skills, all fun and games in his young mind, that will later lead him through life.
It is 3:00 a.m. in Casablanca, Morocco but sophomore men's soccer center midfielder Medhi Ballouchy is about to play in his 16th game as a Bronco as he steps onto the field at Buck Shaw Stadium. His home and family may be thousands of miles away but for Ballouchy that hasn't effected his ability to become one of Santa Clara's most skilled athletes.
"It's pretty amazing how Medhi is able to be halfway around the world from his family and birthplace and still be as successful as he is," said senior men's soccer captain Will Weatherly.
Ballouchy debuted at Santa Clara in a big way, when he was named the Diadora Classic MVP in his first week as a Bronco. Since then he has proved even further to be an important addition to the Bronco family. On September 6, Ballouchy was named WCC Player of the Week only to be followed by the honor of West Coast Conference Player of the Month for September. Since his start, Ballouchy has helped lead the Bronco's to 12 wins and he currently leads the men's team with 13 goals and seven assists.
When presented with these awards head coach Cameron Rast said, "Medhi is very deserving of this honor from the WCC," Rast continued. "We believe him to be one of the best players in the country. This award is an early indication of the impact he has in our program and on our season."
One of the few Moroccan students to attend Santa Clara, Ballouchy is the first Moroccan athlete at the University. Ballouchy began his soccer career at a very young age, in his native Morocco. Though he didn't play on organized teams until he was older, the skills he learned in Morocco are part of what make Medhi the player he is today. "At a very young age, I was taught to focus more on ball handling skills over anything else," said Ballouchy. "In America these same skills are not instilled within children, and I think this gives me an advantage.
"Medhi is an incredible talent and he adds a dimension of creativity and competitiveness that can't be found at any other college program in the country," said Weatherly. "We are lucky to have him."
Born on April 6, 1983 much to his parents dismay Ballouchy began playing soccer the first chance he got. "They didn't really want me to play," said Ballouchy. "Many of the kids who play soccer in Morocco come from poor backgrounds and my parents thought they were bad influences."
After their relentless attempts to encourage Ballouchy to play tennis, a more respectable sport in their eyes, they finally succumbed to his desire for soccer and let him play. "I would set up scrimmages during school , after they stopped letting me play after school," said Ballouchy. "I think they finally realize that I was going to play soccer no matter what, even if they didn`t agree."
A big reason his parents were so skeptical about his budding soccer career was that his father had personal experience in the soccer world. "He played on the Moroccan professional team as well as the second division team in France," said Ballouchy. "He has never given me advice or talked to me about soccer at all. I think he wants me to have my own experience without any influence from him."
It wasn't until high school that Ballouchy actually played on an organized soccer team. He played at Yassine High School in Morocco for two seasons. He also became a member of the Morocco U17 and U16 National Teams where he was named first team all league in 1998 and 1999. He was also named the MVP for his club team in Raja, Morocco.
At age 17 Ballouchy left his native Morocco with his older brother, Eddie, and moved to Denver, Co. in search of better opportunities for soccer. As a junior Ballouchy attended South High School in Denver, where he earned all-league honors. Tim Martin, SCU men's assistant coach, then club coach in California, saw Ballouchy play and asked him to play for his team. Ballouchy decided that he couldn't pass up an opportunity like this, so he moved to Palo Alto, Calif. and began playing for the Palo Alto Puma's under the coaching of Martin.
"I lived with a host family while going to school in Palo Alto," said Ballouchy. "Luckily I knew English by this point, it took me two full semesters before I felt comfortable speaking."
Ballouchy was a 2002 graduate from Gunn High School in Palo Alto, where he received many awards including First Team All League his senior year.
Ballouchy began his collegiate soccer career at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. While there he gained multiple awards including: College Soccer News Freshman All-American in 2002, Missouri Valley Conference All-Newcomer Team, as well as First Team NSCAA All-Midwest selection. He played in 24 matches 20 of which he started. With the help of Ballouchy the Bluejays went on to the national semifinals and won a MVC tournament championship. After a performance like that it was no surprise that head coach Cameron Rast was overjoyed to hear in 2003 that Medhi had decided to transfer to Santa Clara.
"I was homesick," said Ballouchy about his decision to transfer. "I missed California, and my friends from high school."
Though he was unable to play his first year at Santa Clara because he was not cleared to train, he is very happy to finally wear a Bronco uniform.
"I love playing at Santa Clara, especially with this group of guys," said Ballouchy. "We are all really good friends and we hang out together all the time, even off the field."
After graduating from Santa Clara with a degree in Marketing Ballouchy hopes to play professionally.
"It doesn't matter where," he said. "I'll play anywhere I can."