Jose Gomez will leave Creighton with a degree and no regrets.
The midfielder from Santa Ana, Calif., last winter briefly considered bypassing his senior season in order to explore a career in professional soccer. He had a tryout with a Spanish team during Creighton’s holiday break but decided to return to Omaha for his final season.
“I got a chance to come back and play and work hard to prepare myself for making it to the highest level I possibly can,” Gomez said. “And it will be good that I’m graduating in December. That’s important to me.”
Gomez emerged this season as one of the leaders of a Creighton team that has won 15 games, claimed both the Missouri Valley regular-season and tournament championships and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the 20th time in the past 21 seasons.
The eighth-ranked Bluejays will begin NCAA play Sunday with a second-round game at Morrison Stadium. For Gomez and Creighton’s three other seniors — Brent Kallman, Andrew Ribeiro and Jake Brown — the contest could mark their final appearance on the home turf.
Gomez, who last week became the 11th Creighton player to win the Valley’s player of the year award, leads the Bluejays in scoring with a career-high 20 points on six goals and eight assists.
Gomez also has emerged as one of the leaders of a team that lost the core of its leadership with the departure of players such as Ethan Finlay, Brian Holt, Andrew Duran and Greg Jordan from last season.
“Guys like Choco just had to play their role last year,” said Creighton coach Elmar Bolowich, referring to Gomez by his nickname. “That was enough, but every year the dynamics change a little bit. He had to figure out what he was comfortable doing. I had to figure it out, too.”
The process is more trial and error than rocket science. It would be nice, Bolowich said, if a coach could just assign the task of being a leader to a player and be done with it.
“Some guys are not cut out for that role,” Bolowich said. “If you put too much on them, it rattles them and they get off their games. You don’t want to put that added pressure on them.
“You want to make sure your top performers are comfortable playing their game the way they are capable of playing and then maybe having an additional task placed on them in terms of organizing and leading and instructing.”
Bolowich sensed early in the season that Gomez was having difficult embracing the leadership role. Not so now.
“In the beginning, he was more up and down, more hot and cold,” Bolowich said. “We saw moments where he could make a difference, but he tended to disappear when we needed him. As he accepted his role and started learning everyone else’s role, he became more of that on-the-field leader.
“He now talks to players, he organizes them, he gets them in the right spots. That’s what you want to see, but you don’t want that to take away from his game. He’s now comfortable with playing his game at a high level and also organizing us on the field.”
Gomez admits he’s struggled with his consistency at times this season.
“We play 20-some games, and there are going to be some ups and downs,” Gomez said. “You aren’t going to perform at as high a level as you would like to in every game.
“It was hard at times because we had so many new players. We all had to adapt, and we’ve had some players step up.”
Gomez’s name is near the top of that list. Bolowich knew last winter when Gomez headed off to Spain that there was a chance that he would not return. He’s glad Gomez did.
“I knew he wanted to see if he had a chance, which is natural for a competitive player if he has that kind of ambitions,” Bolowich said. “We were prepared at that point that he might leave. Would we have found an adequate replacement? I don’t know. We were hoping for him to come back and finish out his school, more so for him getting his degree. Now, he can go off to the pros knowing that he never has to come back because he’ll have his degree.”
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