COLUMBIA — Rafael Ramos never wants to stop scoring.
The Columbia College senior forward has tallied nine goals over the Cougars’ last six matches, helping his team to a nine-match undefeated run. Ramos’ streak couldn’t have come at a better time, as an injury-plagued Columbia College (9-3-2) sets its sights on an American Midwest Conference title.
“It’s just been happening for me,” Ramos said.
Ramos picked up right where his striking partner, junior Marko Paunovic, left off. Paunovic is out for the season after tearing his ACL earlier this season against Freed-Hardeman. Ramos scored in that match to help secure a 2-0 win for the Cougars, and he’s scored in the three matches since then.
Paunovic, who previously led the team in goals, was frustrated at the bad timing of his injury, but the junior has been impressed by Ramos’ increased focus since becoming the team's main striker.
“It was disappointing because we had started to build chemistry,” Paunovic said. “I feel really bad because I cannot help him. Now, he has that goal-scoring instinct that every striker needs to have. He expects to score every time he steps on the field.”
When Ramos heard his teammate and friend would miss the rest of the season, he chose not to dwell on it, but was determined to do everything he could to fill his place.
“The season was already hard, and I thought it would only get harder without him,” Ramos said. “I felt like I had more responsibility.”
Coach John Klein said he wondered where his team’s goals would come from after Paunovic’s injury and feels relieved that his senior forward took the initiative.
“I think Rafa[el] knew he had to step up, and he has,” Klein said. “At the end of the day, it’s 11 versus 11, put the ball in the back of the net, and luckily he's been doing that for us.”
Although Ramos is not the most vocal leader, Klein said he has led through his play. Ramos said this is due to his increased determination to be successful in his last season at Columbia College.
“It’s my senior year. I prepared myself better and wanted to score more goals this season,” Ramos said.
Ramos attributes his improvement to daily training sessions he participated in during the summer with collegiate and professional players in his native Brazil. He's also been using special stretching techniques and eating healthier to recover faster after matches.
"I do some exercises to help prevent injuries," Ramos said. "There's a lot of games in a short period of time, so that's important."
The adjustments have paid off, as Ramos tied his goal tally from last season (10) in half as many matches this year, which he is grateful for after missing four matches earlier this season because of a hip pointer injury.
“It’s been great,” Ramos said. “I didn’t expect that. I just wanted to be healthy enough to play.”
Ramos is optimistic that his good form and the team's success will continue.
“I hope it stays like this for the rest of the season,” Ramos said. “I still believe in the group. We have to win a conference championship and more."