HARLINGEN — Jacqueline Vargas wasn’t planning on continuing her soccer career after high school, until COVID-19 kept her away from the sport.

After being diagnosed with the coronavirus and being sidelined for an extended time, Vargas realized she wanted to play the game for as long as she could. With the help of her family, Vargas started reaching out to coaches, hoping to get a shot.

On Thursday, Vargas was overjoyed to sign to be part of the first women’s soccer team at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. The four-year letterwinner and Lady Cardinals captain will be playing under coach Leslie Pierce in the Red River Athletic Conference at the NAIA level.

“It’s surreal. I really don’t have words to describe the feelings I’m feeling,” Vargas said. “This time last year I didn’t want to play in college. And then I actually got sick, I had COVID and I was out for about three months, not able to exercise or anything. Having that time away, it hit me that I have to do this for as long as I’m able to. Then God gave me this opportunity and I took it. I honestly wouldn’t have gotten this without (my family), and I’m so grateful. They’re so proud, and I’m so excited.”

When Vargas began the recruitment process, she wasn’t sure if teams would still have spots available on the roster since she got a late start. She credited her older sisters, who both play college soccer, and especially her parents for jumping into action to help her get her name out. Vargas and her father sent highlights to coaches and filled out applications for different schools.

Pierce invited Vargas to the TAMU-SA campus, and the senior said she quickly knew it was the right place for her. Vargas, who has played as forward, midfielder and defender for Harlingen High, anticipates primarily being a defender when she begins her career with the Jaguars. Having an opportunity to help build the brand-new program is something Vargas is looking forward to.

“I honestly think it’s a perfect fit for me. The coach is so down to earth and really knows the sport. It felt comfortable, and it was easy to make the decision,” Vargas said. “I want to help build the foundation of (the program). I really think this school’s name is going to get out there, and I want to say I was part of that building process.”

Harlingen High coach Debra Galvan believes Vargas’ versatility and dedication, to her academics and athletics, will make her a valuable asset for the Jaguars. She praised the senior for her leadership skills and said “it’s an honor and a privilege” to have been part of Vargas’ journey.

Vargas is ranked in the top five percent of Harlingen High’s senior class. She’ll be studying biology at TAMU-SA with plans to pursue a medical degree and is thinking of becoming a cardiologist.

“Jaci is very special. She’s been with us for four years on varsity, and athletically and academically she’s been able to do a lot,” Galvan said. “She motivates, she encourages, she’s at practice on time and she’s the last one to leave. She’s everything we look for in a captain. She’s been playing multiple positions and when you go to college you might be asked to play something different or more than one. She’s been working hard, and it’s been showing on the field.”