Many athletes dream of representing their country in an international tournament. Williston’s Ayden Kokoszka ’23 got to do it last Saturday, February 18.
Kokoszka, who played on the memorable 2022 Williston soccer team that made it to the NEPSAC championship game, competed in the CONCACAF U-17 Championship tournament in Guatemala recently for the Dominican Republic—he has dual citizenship—against, of all teams, the United States. The game, which the Dominican Republic lost 7-0, was the culmination of a whirlwind few months for Kokoszka.
“Ever since I was a kid, it’s been my dream to play in these types of tournaments,” Kokoszka said, “and like, go pro. I feel like this is a first step in my journey to where I want to go.”
The game didn’t turn out liked Kokoszka hoped it would, but he played in the second half and get a chance to see what high-level soccer in his age group looks like.
“I knew it was going to be a very tough game,” he said. “But when I stepped on, I was just thinking about what I could do to help the team.”
Kokoszka’s journey to Guatemala started a few months ago, when he attended a tryout for the Dominican team. After doing well over the three-day trial, Kokoszka received a call from his coach offering him a spot on the U-17 roster for the CONCACAF tournament. CONCACAF is the governing soccer body for soccer in North, Central American and the Caribbean. Kokoszka went to the trial hoping he would secure a roster spot, but getting the confirmation provided him with a rewarding sense of justification.
“I was very proud of myself because I’ve been working very hard,” he said, “and then to know that my mom’s been supporting me, and then to represent the country where she’s from—that meant a lot to me.”
Ayden’s mom is Darlenia Kokoszka, who teaches Spanish at Williston. They live, along with the rest of the family, in Memorial Hall West. After receiving the call to play for the DR, though, Ayden’s time in Mem West grew shorter for a bit. Before the tournament itself, Kokoszka went to a training camp in the Dominican to prepare. That was off of another trip he took to Atlanta to play soccer. Sprinkle in a return to campus for classes before jetting off to Guatemala for the CONCACAF tournament, and the 16-year-old has enjoyed quite a hectic schedule.
“It’s been a lot of traveling, but I’ve been getting used to it more and more,” Kokoszka said.
In Guatemala, Kokoszka traveled by himself to meet up with his Dominican teammates, but his dad, Matt, was already at the tournament, working in his role as a scout and evaluator. Getting to share in the moment with his dad was special, Ayden said, and helped lessen the blow of the loss.
“My dad told me how proud he was of me, so I’m proud of myself as well and it was a very, very good moment, even though the game didn’t go how I wanted. Just experiencing everything that went on and playing against the U.S. team, as well.”
While the U-17 journey is over for Kokoszka—he and his teammates have now graduated out of the age category—he can turn his sights to a potential U-20 roster spot for the Dominican Republic, and what lies ahead in his high school career here at Williston.
“That’s my whole dream, to just go as far as I can,” Kokoszka said. “I won’t stop working hard until that time comes where I have to stop playing.”