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Vagenas Reaches the Top With High-Minded UCLA

VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | KEEPING TABS

October 07, 1999|CHRIS SHAFFER

While at St. Francis High, Pete Vagenas wondered if anything could be better.

Vagenas won a Southern Section soccer championship, earned All-American, all-section and player of the year honors, but that was minuscule compared to what he has accomplished in college.

Vagenas, a senior captain for the No. 6-ranked UCLA men's team, has risen to new heights. But he almost never made it to Westwood.

As a freshmen at St. Francis, he debated whether to play soccer or his other love, basketball.

"Growing up, I had a passion for all sports," Vagenas said. "I had a real tough choice between soccer and basketball. I was actually going to try basketball."

As his senior year approached, Vagenas confronted another dilemma. He struggled to choose between playing professional soccer in Europe or college soccer in the United States.

"I have no regrets for what I did," said Vagenas, one of 15 nominees for player of the year award. "At first, I was scared. I was terrified. I wasn't sure if I made the right decision."

Luckily for UCLA, he chose a college education.

He has helped the Bruins make three postseason appearances and win one NCAA title. He is a preseason All-American after spending the summer as the captain and leading scorer for the U.S. under-23 national team that finished third in the Pan American Games.

"It's a great feeling to wear your country's colors," said Vagenas, a midfielder who scored goals in a 1-0 victory over Cuba and a 2-1 loss to Honduras. "When you are in the moment, you really don't think about it. It doesn't hit you.

"I stood there during the national anthem and felt something you can't explain to someone. It's an amazing feeling."

Vagenas has two goals and three assists for the Bruins (7-1) this season. He scored the winning goal in a 4-3 overtime victory over Butler and assisted on the game-winner in a 2-1 overtime victory over Loyola Marymount.

UCLA will bring a five-game winning streak into its game Friday night at Cal State Northridge, a homecoming for Vagenas.

"It's more than just playing Northridge," he said. "It's bragging rights. It's not really an away game. The same people that would see us at UCLA will drive an extra 10 minutes over the hill.

"To tell you the truth, I feel sorry for Northridge. Our team is not really satisfied with the way we are playing. We haven't exploded yet. Our team has shown spurts of how we can play. Hopefully, it will be a game where we do click on all cylinders."

Vagenas has rarely suffered a letdown in his four years with the Bruins. He has helped UCLA to a 62-11 record during that time, collecting 14 goals and 22 assists.

Uncertain what path he will take after college, Vagenas wants to concentrate on his senior season.

"I will definitely pursue soccer, whether it is here or overseas," he said. "Come December, I will sit down with my family and decide. Right now, all I'm concentrating on is UCLA."

Former UCLA coach and current Galaxy Coach Sigi Schmid said Vagenas has what it takes to play at the professional level.

"Pete is a very good player," Schmid said. "Based on the fact that he was captain of the under-23 national team, his chances of playing in the MLS are very good. He should be somebody that will go very high in the draft.

"He is a midfielder who is technically very good. He has great vision and is a ball control-oriented player."

*

Eric Johnson (St. Francis), Vagenas' former teammate, assisted on the game-winning overtime goal in Cal Poly Pomona's 3-2 victory over Chico State on Friday.

He scored a goal Sunday in a 3-2 overtime loss to UC Davis, ranked No. 2 in the Far West Region in NCAA Division II.

Johnson has started every game for the Broncos (6-4-1), ranked No. 4 in the Far West Region. He ranks third on the team in points with four goals and three assists.

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