Highlights of a typical Azusa Pacific men’s soccer game usually don’t include any of Banihashemi’s plays. They likely begin right after he last touched the ball, putting a teammate in position to score. This is part of the center midfielder’s job, and a vital component of a successful soccer team.
He continues his version of the job description: “I’m usually the guy who passes to the guy who passes to the guy who scores.”
Relishing the Rigor
Banihashemi relishes the role, and it shows in his work ethic that has developed into a rich four-year career, beginning with the Cougars’ 2007 NAIA championship. It also surfaces in his studies, a rigorous premed curriculum in preparation to become a pediatrician. It’s even a big part of his social life with family and friends, where his early decision to give his life to Christ helped lead his mother to the Lord.
He’s definitely tasted glory—few moments for collegiate athletes rank higher than scoring an important goal in the national title game.
Despite taking only five shots in the regular season, Banihashemi got one critical scoring chance during the 2007 NAIA championship. With a 1–0 second-half lead, All-American forwards Steven Lenhart ’10 and Sven Simon ’06, MBA ’08, both passed up shots on a quick counterattack to get the ball to Banihashemi. Without hesitation, the freshman fired a shot with the confidence of a seasoned veteran, finding the side netting inside the right post of the frame for a momentous goal that ultimately sealed the Cougars’ first-ever national men’s soccer title.
“Scoring in that game was awesome,” Banihashemi said, “but when I think about soccer, the first thing I remember is the singing we do before the game. We worship Jesus for just a few minutes, and it’s important for us as a team to show that we claim God First, on and off the field.”
Focusing on What's Important
Banihashemi’s story is less about the glory of what he’s accomplished on the field. It’s more about guts—actions and behavior that require true courage, real faith, and increased maturity.
Invited to attend church for the first time by a friend in fourth grade, Banihashemi became a Christian a year later. Upon seeing the joy this decision made in her oldest son’s life, his mother, Carol, began attending church with him, soon committing her life to Christ as well. The same childhood friend later encouraged Banihashemi to consider attending Azusa Pacific University, and his time with the team during a campus visit made the decision easy.
“The combination of strong academics and the type of guys on the team were important,” he recalled. “My family also sensed a difference about this place; they couldn’t see me anywhere else.”
A Meaningful Journey
With early soccer success along with his strong personality, Banihashemi quickly found himself in a team leadership role. He helped guide Azusa Pacific to top-15 final rankings in 2008 and 2009, but both campaigns ended in disappointment. With crushing conference-tournament defeats at home, the Cougars were left without national tournament bids.
“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “Missing out on nationals helped open my eyes to why I’m really here. This program and this school are about more than winning national titles. They’re about testing character; it’s part of my journey.”
Perhaps his greatest challenge is his academic path. A biology major in the premed program, Banihashemi has balanced his team leadership with academic excellence, earning NAIA Scholar-Athlete recognition as a junior in 2009.
“His decision to play soccer and be premed is not easy for anyone,” said Cougar Head Coach Dave Blomquist, who was a premed major at Wheaton College before shifting his goals to a future in coaching. “The demand of each is a full plate, and he takes on both with dedication, desire, and a work rate that not many people can maintain.”
Keeping His Eye on the Goal
Banihashemi missed every Monday practice for two years for lab courses that allowed him to stay on track for graduation in 2011. That’s in addition to six hours per week of extra class time he took last spring to prepare for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
“That was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done,” said Banihashemi. “The first half of my summer was gone just studying for the test, but putting the work in was worth it. Now I just have to trust I did the best I could and let God show me the next step.”
As one of three four-year seniors on the 2010 team, Banihashemi is keenly aware that few of his current teammates have shared the national tournament experience. It’s important to him to give that opportunity back to the school he feels has helped give him a sense of purpose and direction for the rest of his life.
No matter how the season turns out, there’s no question about the legacy Banihashemi has left at Azusa Pacific: More guts, less glory.
Joe Reinsch ’03 is the assistant sports information director at Azusa Pacific University. firstname.lastname@example.org