Thu, Jun 30 2011 01:52 PM Posted By: Phillip Brents
Tournament club hockey die-hards have criticized the CIF-Metro Conference for the latter’s built-in restrictions on in-season play with inline travel teams. But that somewhat negative image might change courtesy of one of the CIF-sanctioned circuit’s recent alums: Hilltop’s Kekoa Latimore.
Latimore, one year removed from a starring role in CIF-sponsored play, will take the floor in Roccaraso, Italy, June 30 to July 9 as a member of the United States men’s junior national team competing in the Federation of International Roller Sports (FIRS) inline hockey world championships.
He’s obviously living any hockey player’s dream.
“It’s rare for anyone from the South Bay to get this opportunity,” he said. “I feel very blessed to have this opportunity. I’m honored to represent the South Bay at this level. I see this as a building block for my future career in roller hockey.”
There’s more — and Latimore still has to pinch himself to remind him it’s all so very real.
After returning to the USA from Europe, the 19-year-old defenseman will have little time to savor any success as he will be off to the East Coast to compete for two teams in the North American Roller Hockey Championship series Finals. The NARCh Finals are scheduled July 15-31 in Estero, Fla.
His globe-trotting exploits start with this weekend’s Western Inline Hockey Association (WIHA) Finals in Irvine where he will be playing for the Reebok Junior Ducks Orange Midget (18U) team.
“Yeah, it’s going to get real busy real soon,” he shrugged with a smile.
When you reach the highest level of your game, nothing but an ear-to-ear grin should be expected out of anyone.
Talent speaks for itself no matter what the level.
The 2010 Lancer alum will be off to play Division I collegiate roller hockey this fall at Bethel University in Tennessee.
“I’m more than excited,” Latimore said. “I’m ready to take my game to the next level. NARCh is the best of the best in North America. My ultimate goal is to play in FIRS for the men’s senior team.”
Well, give him enough time and that could happen. Chula Vista’s Luis Gonzalez won a gold medal with the 2009 senior men’s team in Germany.
Latimore has turned heads since he first put on a pair of skates. He started skating at 3 and began playing in a YMCA-sponsored recreational program a year later. By the time he was 6, he was playing in youth leagues at now-closed Chula Vista RollerSkateLand. He made Hilltop’s varsity team as a freshman and remained one of the Lancers’ higher profile players until midway through his senior year when he left the team for personal reasons.
All the years of on-court match-ups have not dimmed his enthusiasm for the game one puck drop.
“It was great to be with all my friends who played for my tournament team, the Hawks, or who I either played with or against at RollerSkateLand,” he said. “What I liked most was watching the progress that we all made while growing up playing roller hockey together.”
Latimore earned recognition as the Lancers’ “newcomer of the year” his freshman season and won back-to-back league championships his sophomore and junior years.
The Hilltop alum is one of the few San Diego County players who have made the jump — and a name for themselves — while playing for elite programs in Orange County.
At July’s NARCh Finals, Latimore will compete for the Junior Ducks in the Midget Platinum Division and the Nakon Dragons in Men’s Platinum. He won a Midget Gold championship in January’s NARCh Winternationals with the Tour Outcasts.
“I played in the NARCh Finals in 2010 in San Jose and our team didn’t do so well, so I dedicated the whole off-season to improving my game with the goal of winning a gold medal,” he said.
Latimore drew the attention of the national team selection committee by participating in February’s Presidents Day Cup in Antioch for the Junior Ducks. The Corona-based team finished second in the 18AA Division.
Scouts were impressed by Latimore’s leadership abilities both on and off the playing court.
“I see myself as the guy who pumps up his teammates and gets them in position to win the game,” Latimore said. “I think perseverance is my best quality. I never quit. If my team is down, I want to be the last guy on the floor trying to get that game-tying goal.”
Latimore made so much of an impression that he was actually selected to two all-star teams. Besides the FIRS invitation, he also was named to the 18U roster for Team USA West at the upcoming AAU Junior Olympic Games in Huntington Beach.
He had to make a decision as the tournaments conflict. He chose Team USA.
He joins one other Californian on the U.S. team’s 2011 FIRS roster: Los Altos’ Sam Poyer.
“I hope we come back with the gold medal,” he said.
That might be a tall order to fill, though returning to the states with a medal might not be out of the question for this American squad. Team USA captured the silver medal at last year’s tournament in Germany after winning the bronze medal in 2009 in Italy. The Americans won the gold medal the first year the 19U age-division was contested in 2007 in Germany and took the silver medal in 2008 in Philadelphia.
The U.S. senior men’s team is currently working on a streak of three consecutive gold medals and has won 13 gold medals since the division was organized in 1995.
Latimore could develop an affinity for the precious metal. In his most recent tournament competition, he and his Junior Ducks teammates captured the gold medal at the AAU West Coast Club championships held over Memorial Day weekend at Corona Inline.
The Junior Ducks defeated the Alpha Dogs in the championship game after first meting out a measure of revenge by defeating the Bauer Riot in the semifinals — the team that topped them for the top spot at the Presidents Day Cup tourney.
Latimore tied for second in team scoring at the Antioch tournament with a goal and three assists.
Latimore departs June 28 to Detroit where the U.S. junior men’s team will meet up prior to departing for Rome. While in the eternal city, the American squad is scheduled to tour the Vatican and the Colosseum.
Roccaraso is located about two hours by bus from Rome.
While the former Hilltop standout may be enjoying life at the top, he realizes it took years to get there. He specifically credits his mother, Agnes Latimore, for being there every step along the way in terms of both spiritual and financial support.
“I give all the credit to her, especially being a single parent,” Latimore said. “She has been there from the beginning by driving me to games and practices and paying for my tournament and team fees and equipment.”
It also hasn’t been easy for Latimore, who holds down a job while attending classes at Southwestern College and making the drive twice each week to Orange County for practices.
“It’s been tough juggling all that and still being a 4.0 student,” he said. “I really hate the drive back from Corona late at night to catch an early morning class. But I really think all of this has made me a better hockey player.”
From Chula Vista to Italy: Latimore is carrying a very bright torch for the CIF-Metro Conference.
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