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Marshall goalkeeper Kaiya Jota was at last summer’s FIFA World Cup with the Philippines and is headed to Stanford – Pasadena Star News

Marshall Fundamental goalkeeper Kaiya Jota, a Stanford commit who plays for the Philippines national team at Marshall High School in Pasadena on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

During the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup last summer co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia, the Philippines women’s national team needed to withstand a late-match barrage from New Zealand to hold on for victory. After 95 grueling minutes, the referee finally blew the whistle and all 23 players rushed to the field to take part in the historic jubilation.

In its first-ever Women’s World Cup appearance, the Philippines stunned the tournament co-host with a 1-0 victory — the first squad in FIFA Women’s World Cup history to secure a win in its tournament debut.

Among those on the 23-player roster for the Philippines  was backup and Marshall Fundamental’s senior goalkeeper, Kaiya Jota, soaking up the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But even as Jota, one of the youngest players at the Women’s World Cup, saw all three group stage games from the bench, the experience was invaluable for her. Five months later, experience lives rent-free in Jota’s mind.

Over the last year, Jota has achieved milestones few youth soccer players have reached, all while balancing high school soccer, collegiate recruiting, and national team duties.

“It was all quite surreal,” Jota recalled. “The (New Zealand) game was incredible. Hearing the stadium after getting that goal, there are no words to describe the feeling. It’s something every little girl dreams to do. It’s something that I think about every single day.”

Jota, who is committed to Stanford and plays for the Los Angeles Breakers FC, is unlike a lot of high-level players who ditch their high school teams. She’s a senior in her fourth year with the Eagles, helping them win a CIF Southern Section Division 5 championship her sophomore season in 2022, while also helping the Eagles to back-to-back Mission Valley league titles the past two seasons.

Jota believes her hectic schedule over the last year is a small price to pay to achieve her career aspiration of becoming a professional soccer player. And few people know better about the arduous journey of playing professional soccer than Marshall head coach Erika Prado.

Prado, who has been Jota’s coach since her freshman season, spent three seasons playing USL-W, a semi-professional league, and professionally in Russia before retiring in 2011 to focus on coaching. While the paths are undoubtedly different, Jota’s ambition resonates with the third-year head coach.

“I had a similar experience to Kaiya, I was in the Olympic development program and tryout out for the Mexican national team and I understand,” Prado said. “I respect her direction and I made sure to work with her other responsibilities.”

Jota’s whirlwind of a year began at the start in January 2023 when Stanford University began to take interest in the reigning Mission Valley League defensive player of the year. Up until that point, University of Nevada Las Vegas and Pepperdine University separated themselves at the top of Jota’s list, she said. From the beginning of Jota’s college recruitment recruit, she expressed to colleges she was looking for programs that had a proven track record of developing professional soccer players.

After seeing Jota play in an Elite Club National League showcase event in New Jersey and an official visit in January 2023, the Cardinal, a three-time NCAA Women’s College Cup national Champion, offered Jota a scholarship.

A week later, Jota committed. All of the years of training with her goalkeeper coach, Ramon Melin, finally paid off. And Melin approved.

“No matter what, they’re gonna raise your level and you’re going to benefit as a player because these caliber of programs are always recruiting from the U.S. National Team and other national team pools,” Melin said of Cardinals’ player development.

Four months after committing to Stanford, the Philippines Women’s National team invited Jota to a provisional 30-player Women’s World Cup camp in Australia. Jota, who had been a part of the senior and U-20 Philippines National team pool since an open tryout in December 2021, competed in a three-week camp with three other goalkeepers for one of three spots on the final 23-player World Cup roster.

On the final day of cuts, all players within the Philippines camp were to stay inside their hotel rooms until they received a text to come downstairs to a conference room to be informed of their status on the World Cup roster, Jota recalled.

Jota received a text to come down and on the way to the elevator, she saw Kiara Fontanilla, one of the four other goalkeepers. Fontanilla, too, received a text. Upon exiting the elevator, the two goalkeepers saw Olivia McDaniel, another goalkeeper. The three goalkeepers entered the conference room before Jota realized the two other goalkeepers at the camp were not in the room and what was unfolding.

Philippines coach Alen Stajcic informed Jota, Fontanilla and McDaniel they made the final roster.

“I immediately started crying,” Jota recalled. “ I thought, ‘There’s no way. This is not real.’ and it took a while to set in that I was going to the (2023 Women’s World Cup).”

Despite a historic debut run, the Philippines failed to reach the knock-out stages.

On Nov. 8, Jota signed her national letter of intent to Stanford just before the start of her senior season at Marshall. Currently, the Eagles (6-1, 5-0) are undefeated in league chasing their third straight crown and gearing up for a CIF-SS Division 3 playoff run.

“This senior class is special and a tight group,” Jota said. “A lot of the players on this team, I grew up playing with and I’ve known since kindergarten. High school soccer focuses on the love I have for my teammates and the love I have for the school. No matter what, I’m going to show up because of how much they mean to me.”


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