Mustang’s long road to All-American honor started with watching from the sidelines

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Marcella Salyer
Marcella Salyer dives to save a penalty kick against Santiago Canyon. Photo by Paul Muyskens

Often in sports when an athlete earns a big-time honor, it does not really come out of nowhere. That athlete normally is well known and has a story that includes them dominating for many years, with the honor perhaps coming more as an expectation and not much of a surprise.

This is not one of those stories. This is the Marcella Salyer story.

During the 2019 season, the Delta College women’s soccer team made it back to the Final Four for the second year in a row and set multiple program records. One player, Marcella Salyer, became the program’s first-ever first-team All-American.

“Oh my god, what does this mean,” said Salyer as she reflected on when she received a text from her coach with a picture of the All-American announcement. “My heart started pounding and I was getting all teary. I remember thinking no freaking way, how is this even possible? I was so shocked. I can’t believe that happened but I felt like I deserved some sort of award for all that I had given and I worked so hard to get where I am at.”

Not letting injuries or limited playing time stop her from playing the sport she loved, Salyer had gone from barely playing to being recognized as the best in the nation at the Junior College Division III level by the United Soccer Coaches Association.

A multi-sport athlete at East Union High School in Manteca, her playing days were limited for the Lancers because of an ACL tear while playing basketball.

“I played travel soccer but I only played one year of high school soccer and that was my junior year,” said Salyer, who redshirted during her first year at Delta. “Coming into my freshman year at Delta I kind of felt that I wasn’t good enough for the college level yet.”

Coming onto a team that was in a good situation goalkeeper wise and with minimal playing time over the previous four years, Salyer’s coach felt it was best for her to sit out her first year at Delta.

“I felt like she could use that redshirt year to focus on academics, grow as a goalkeeper and save her year of eligibility,” said head coach Adrienne Sorenson.

Her second year with the Mustangs saw her get limited time in goal during a season that saw the team reach the Final Four for the first time in program history.

“It was really tough,” said Salyer. “I thought I had put in enough work to get more playing time but everything happens for a reason.”

“Soccer is my heart. I am so passionate about it. There’s times I have cried and wondered is this worth it and should I still play because I am not getting the time. Until someone tells me that I can’t play anymore, I’m going to play. I’m doing this for myself. I want to play soccer. I have always wanted to push myself to get better.”

Despite that frustration at times of not seeing more playing time, she did not let that become an issue during the history-making 2018 season.

“The thing that really impressed me the most about Marcella is that through everything, through two years basically of it not being about her she was a great teammate,” said Sorenson. “To Marcella’s credit, if she was frustrated or upset she really didn’t show it. She showed up and worked hard and had a great relationship with the other keepers.”

When 2018 first-team All-Conference goalkeeper Amanda Leal headed to Cal State Los Angeles, it opened up an opportunity to become the team’s starting goalkeeper and Salyer came out during the spring season to show that the spot should be hers. Up to that point, she had not played a full game in goal for her school’s team in over three years, since her junior year in high school.

“Last spring was really Marcella’s coming out party,” said Sorenson about the spring season that includes games against four-year colleges. “She got all the minutes in our spring games and had an absolutely incredible game against San Francisco State.”

During the game against the Gators, she had several big-time one-on-one saves and showed strength in the air on corner kicks with a performance that helped the Mustangs get the draw. That game would also leave a lasting memory on the Gators coaching staff.

“When we played against those four-year schools I was like, ‘this is who I am,’” said Salyer. “This is my moment to show what I’m about because I never really got the chance to show (myself) against really good opponents. I was so proud of myself. I knew I had it in me.”

With a new level of confidence heading into her final season at Delta, she set out to make sure that she would finally get that starting goalkeeper spot she had worked so hard and so long to achieve.

“I would say that she reached and hit a new level of toughness that was really apparent her third year with us,” said goalkeeper coach Dominic Figueroa. “She had an ‘I won’t be denied’ attitude that really allowed her to have a strong start to camp.”

Despite earning the starting goalkeeping spot, she split time in goal. Salyer would start the game and play the first half before freshman Callie Crain would come in at halftime and play the second half.

That did not prevent her from making history and becoming the program’s first-ever first-team All American.

“I’m the starting goalkeeper and I have to keep that standard of being good,” said Salyer, who admitted there was some pressure this season after the Mustangs had reached the Final Four the season before. “I’m starting and I’m going to do the best I can with it. We won the conference, went to the Final Four again this season and I’m very proud of myself and the team. It was all so exciting to me knowing that I was a part of that.”

With options that included going out of state, she will be headed to play the next two years at San Francisco State, a program that reached out after remembering her impressive performance against them from last spring.

“A lot of my friends were like ‘if you go to SF, we can come to your games,’” said Salyer. “I want my parents to go to every game and I want my family to come to my games.”

So often athletes can get discouraged and let the lack of playing time not only affect themself but also the team. Marcella Salyer is not one of those athletes.

“I feel like her story is a great one for kids coming in who maybe don’t have the role they envision right away,” said Sorenson. “Even her sophomore year she split time but it was never about her, it was about her team and us being the best we can be.”

The Marcella Salyer story is far from finished.