Change of Scenery
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - After completing their high school soccer careers at Elkhart Central High in 2007, and nearly winning two state championships, West Virginia University men’s soccer defender Ruben Garrido and goalkeeper Justin Holmes had joked that maybe someday they would play together and compete for a championship at the collegiate level.
By the time high school graduation rolled around the following spring, Garrido was on his way east to continue his soccer career at WVU, while Holmes headed west to play at New Mexico.
Holmes was attracted to New Mexico by club coach Jamie Clark, the current head coach of Washington and son of Notre Dame coach Bobby Clark. Before the younger Clark came to Notre Dame and served as Holmes’ club coach, he was an assistant at New Mexico and saw it as a good fit for Holmes.
“Jamie told me that I would be successful for them because of the type of player I was and it would be a program where I could excel as an individual and as a goalkeeper,” Holmes recalls. “I went out for a visit and at that point I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
After spending a much needed season redshirting at New Mexico, Holmes found himself sitting on the bench until the final five matches of the 2009 season, in which he started all five and felt he deserved the playing time.
“I think the coach had a hard time with me not having as much experience as the other keepers who were going for the position,” Holmes says. “I just had to keep going because I believed I was the guy for the job. At the end of the day, whether it was the whole season or the last five games, I came out on top and took that as another stepping stone.”
After proving himself time and again, he was awarded the starting position in 2010 and helped lead New Mexico to a 7-5-5 record and an NCAA tournament appearance; individually, Holmes owned a school-record shutout streak of 614 minutes that spanned eight games.
“You definitely want to stay the course and that’s the hardest thing to do because after three or four games go by, and you haven’t conceded a goal, it’s going to be in the back of your mind,” says Holmes. “The biggest thing was that I was focusing on just one game at a time or one half at a time. I had the full trust of everybody around me that we were all in it together and that was one of our goals. We just wanted to keep it going and everyone was in the same mindset.”
After the 2010 season ended, Holmes realized that he was in an unhealthy situation and wasn’t sure if he could deal with the stresses of expectations, playing and staying in good academic standing.
A change of scenery was in need and Holmes quickly began to look around at other schools while finishing his spring semester at New Mexico. West Virginia immediately came to the forefront.
“If you look at the team and look into what they have done; just watch a game, it’s pretty special,” Holmes says. “A lot of teams are successful, but if you look deeper than that, you’re not going to find the type of unity I saw and it’s something that we all strive for.”
Holmes was unable to immediately contact WVU coach Marlon LeBlanc and was forced to wait until just before the start of preseason to join the Mountaineers.
“That was the hardest thing because I couldn’t even talk to Ruben about it,” Holmes remembers. “It was just something that I put together in my head, did some research and I just had to go with my gut instinct. I followed that and it led me here.”
Coming to West Virginia and believing that he would be the starting keeper, Holmes quickly was reminded that nothing is given and he began the first four games of the season on the bench as a backup.
“I was the starter at New Mexico, so I came here expecting to start, which everyone does,” Holmes says. “I found out that I wasn’t starting and knew it was strictly due to what I was doing, I didn’t show up to play. I just had to keep going and things were going to look up.”
In the second game of a California road trip against Cal Poly, LeBlanc decided to give Holmes a chance because of the west coast style of play that he played against while at New Mexico.
“For someone that doesn’t follow college soccer, the west coast is extremely directional,” Holmes explains. “They just kick it and run. They dump balls in behind and get people on the other end of it. The east coast is more soccer; people like to play in the middle of the field. People enjoy it more.”
Holmes didn’t disappoint, making made nine saves to preserve a scoreless draw and his first shutout as a Mountaineer.
Since then, Holmes has played in two more games, winning both and hoping that his third victory is against USF this Sunday, Sept. 25, at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium
As far as future season goals, Holmes and Garrido want to one day finally win that championship they’ve been waiting.
“We always joked about it because we grew up together and then I went to New Mexico and he went to West Virginia and it never crossed my mind,” Holmes laughs. “It is a dream made reality and it’s special that we were able to fulfill it with this being his last season.”
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