By Brad Fauber - firstname.lastname@example.org
Juan Luna was poised for a breakout senior season.
Luna, a three-year starter for Stonewall Jackson's boys soccer program, was fresh off of an outstanding junior campaign in 2011 in which he helped lead the Generals to a Shenandoah District title and a Region B quarterfinal appearance.
Luna finished second on the team in goals scored with 19 that season, and added seven assists, while missing eight games with a broken collarbone. For his efforts, Luna was awarded first team all-district and first team all-region honors.
But the 2012 high school soccer season came and went, and Luna never once stepped onto the pitch for Stonewall Jackson. In fact, Luna wasn't even in the same country.
Luna, who moved with his family to the United States from Mexico in 2001, left the U.S. on July 28, 2011, to meet with Mexican government officials in Ciudad Juarez, Mex., to finalize the process for obtaining his permanent residency in America.
The process, which Luna said generally takes between a few weeks to a couple months, lasted an agonizing eight months, forcing Luna to miss his entire senior year of high school.
"All I wanted was to finish my senior year," Luna said. "I just wanted to have a normal senior year."
Luna will now get that chance.
Three months after Luna returned to the U.S. on March 7 of this year, the Virginia High School League advised him that he will be granted athletic eligibility for the spring semester, meaning that Luna will be able to suit up for the Stonewall Jackson soccer team for one final season.
"It felt amazing," said Luna of the moment he learned of the VHSL's ruling. "Everyone on the [Stonewall Jackson soccer] team was so happy, I was so happy. It's a blessing to be able to play sports again."
Luna is not completely out of the woods just yet as his athletic eligibility for the fall semester is still in question. Luna, also a kicker for the Stonewall Jackson football program, must make his case to a VHSL committee at a hearing Aug. 6 in Charlottesville.
Stonewall Jackson principal Mike Dorman said that there are certain academic issues involved that the VHSL must take into consideration, as student-athletes are required to pass a certain number of classes the previous semester in order to be athletically eligible for the next.
Luna will not be alone at the hearing -- he will be joined by his family, as well as Dorman, who has stuck by Luna since the very beginning.
Luna said he and Dorman kept in constant contact from the moment Luna found out he would be in Mexico longer than initially expected. For Dorman, the phone conversations during that period were about keeping Luna upbeat during the unfortunate situation.
"It was about just keeping him cheered up and keeping things positive," Dorman said. "He would text me and tell me about the situation and keep me up to date with everything that was going on."
Luna also admitted there was a silver lining to his time spent in Mexico.
Luna joined a soccer academy run by Club Atlas, a professional team in Mexico, and participated on the academy's 17U team for a majority of his time spent outside of the U.S. As a member of the team, Luna traveled Mexico and competed against some of the top young talent in the country, allowing him to further improve his game.
That's good news for the 2013 Stonewall Jackson boys soccer team, who will be welcoming in a new head coach after Nate Hissong stepped down from the position at the end of this past season.
Luna, who will turn 19 just before the soccer season begins, will team up with junior Roberto Cardoso, a first team all-district and second team all-region selection for the Generals last season, to provide Stonewall Jackson with a potentially devastating one-two scoring punch.
Luna knows that the Generals have the potential to do some great things on the soccer field next season -- a return to the Group A state tournament, which Luna experienced as a freshman with Stonewall Jackson in 2009, would be nice -- but he doesn't want the team to get too far ahead of itself.
"We can't assume that just because I am back we are going to make it to states," Luna said. "That's something I learned from Coach Hissong -- take things one game at a time."
As for personal goals for the upcoming season, Luna has a simple one.
"I just want to go out with a bang," he said.