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CLAP OF THUNDER PALMDALE SOCCER CLUB MAKES BIG NOISE BEHIND GOMEZ.

Byline: Sean Ceglinsky Staff Writer

A name is something people identify with, and in Art Gomez's case, that means everything.

Gomez is one of the original members of the Thunder Soccer Club, a team which began playing together in Simi Valley in the early '80s. During those years, he played alongside the likes of Simi Valley High coach Kenny Byrd and Lancaster High's Ricky Acuna.

The team eventually broke up. However, the experience and knowledge Gomez gained is immeasurable. Now 33, he's re-established that tradition in the Antelope Valley.

In his sixth year as coach of the Palmdale Thunder Club team, Gomez had perhaps one of his most rewarding seasons. Three of his players - Vincent Stefano, Mark Cipolla and Jason Doss-Carter - received scholarships to play college soccer in the fall.

More important, they'll have the opportunity to continue their education and that in itself pleases Gomez the most.

``What I've done is carried the Thunder name and the tradition with me,'' Gomez said, ``In doing that, I've tried to instill the values and knowledge that I've gained into my players. I'm not the best coach by any means, but my kids know that I will work as hard as I can for them. Whether it's in the classroom or on the field, I will give them 100 percent.''

And for those willing to put forth the effort, club soccer can be beneficial. Its athletes are competing year-round against some of the top teams in the state. By entering the more prestigious tournaments, the players are receiving exposure to potential colleges - more so than their high school teams would normally provide.

For example, the Thunder regularly travels to San Diego to play in the Nomads Tournament, where an average of 100-200 college coaches and scouts attend. They also traveled to Minnesota and played in the USA Cup this year.

``It's amazing all the coaches Art knows,'' said assistant coach Bob Stefano. ``He was running around like a crazy man at the Nomads Tournament and at one point, we had 20 coaches at one of our games. He just cares so much about these kids and gives them an opportunity to excel. He does a lot for our valley.''

Gomez's theory is simple.

``Everyone talks about win, win, win, when they should be talking about learn, learn, learn,'' he said. ``I let the kids know that they shouldn't just dream of being a national player. I stress the importance of being a college player first. My players know if you have the grades, everything else falls into place.''

Things did just that for Quartz Hill High graduates Cipolla and Stefano, both of whom will attend Montana State - an NCAA Division II school. The two have impressed coach Carlos Arce this summer and are training in two-a-day sessions with the team.

Having played with the Thunder since its inception, Stefano was one of the team's most improved players over the years. His fearless and hard- working attitude makes him an ideal last line of defense from his stopper position.

``Stefano is going to be the cornerstone of our defense,'' Arce said. ``He's very sound fundamentally. He's steadfast and has been strong from the start. Vincent has stepped in and gained the respect of his peers.''

An athletic 6-foot-2 attacking midfielder, Cipolla is a goal scorer and rarely does he hesitate to put the ball on the net. However, his uncanny ability to know when to shoot and when to pass the ball into open space makes him that much more of a threat.

``He's a complete player who makes everyone around him better,'' said Gomez of Cipolla, who was Thunders' top goal scorer and leader in assists last season. ``He's what you call a coach's player, you ask him to do something and it's done.''

Arce remains optimistic when talking about Cipolla's style of play.

``Mark has some of that 'California flash','' Arce said. ``He has very technical skills and once he becomes more comfortable within the system, he'll be able to utilize those skills.

``I think the biggest challenge for the two has been the training. But to their benefit, they both came in willing and physically capable of playing at this level. Both are fine young men who represent a vision of where we are going.''

Despite receiving scholarship offers to Chico State and UC Santa Cruz, Doss-Carter chose to stay close to home. The Palmdale High graduate will attend Cal State Bakersfield on an academic and athletic scholarship.

``It's a lot different here,'' said Doss-Carter after his first week at CSUB. ``The guy going for your spot is just as good as you. But, playing with the Thunder prepared me for this type of competition. I've played against the top players in the state so I'm not nervous at all.''

Being one of the top club players in Southern California, Doss-Carter was being recruited by the Breakaway, a three-time national champion.

Most teen-agers would be influenced by such a prominent program. However, Doss-Carter remained loyal to the Thunder. And with that decision, he proved why he's been named team captain in each of the past six years.

``The Thunder is so much more than soccer,'' Doss-Carter said. ``It's a family.''

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1) Art Gomez

(2) Palmdale Thunder coach Art Gomez stresses education, and that has benefited players as midfielder Mark Cipolla, above, and defender Vincent Stefano both of whom received scholarships to play soccer at Montana State.

Gene Blevins/Special to the Daily News
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 21, 2001
Words:918
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