PepsiCo Showcase helps players & colleges alike

By Bob Narang

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh women’s soccer coach Erin Coppernoll is a veteran attendee of the 18th Annual PepsiCo Showdown College Showcase at The Max in McCook.

After earning the most victories in the history of Wisconsin-Oshkosh program, the long-time college mentor understands the importance of recruiting and, more importantly, finding the right fit for her program. Coppernoll said she’s attended the annual one-day college showcase event each of the last five years.

“I like this showcase, because you can see a bunch of girls that come together and are put on separate teams where they don’t know anyone,” Coppernoll said. “This is the reality of when they get to college.

“They leave familiarity and go to a place where they don’t know anyone. So it’s nice to see potential talent in that same situation and how they handle it. 

“Can they hold their own and blend with other soccer stars or do they struggle? This is a good opportunity to see this firsthand.”

Held the morning of Super Bowl Sunday, the PepsiCo Showdown College Showcase was filled with 300-plus girls and boys looking to improve their skills and attract attention from the college head coaches and assistants in attendance and watching via video feed.

In normal years, the event always takes place the day after Thanksgiving on Black Friday. But due to COVID-19, it was rescheduled to ensure the health and safety of all players and coaches in attendance.

Each PepsiCo participant donned a jersey with the logo of Buddy’s HELPERS, a nonprofit uniting high school student athletes in an annual community service campaign built around “Making A Difference On AND Off the Field” to build leadership for a stronger future.

The event annually attracts college coaches from all levels, mainly due to the ability to watch student athletes from a wide range of schools from throughout Illinois and Wisconsin in one location. Several television stations in CBS, ABC, WGN and FOX also were in attendance.

Lewis University men’s coach Evan Fiffles is a staple in the Chicagoland soccer scene. He has led the Flyers to a winning season in 24 of his 26 seasons at the helm and is a regular at the popular showcase.

Fiffles said the showcase is an invaluable event for college coaches and aspiring college players during the coronavirus pandemic, which has severely affected recruiting.

“It’s extra special this year, because the seniors have not had the venue or opportunity to be seen since everything pretty much has been shut down since last March,” Fiffles said. “For some of these guys, this might be their first opportunity to attend something like this. This is a great opportunity for them to showcase what they can do, even for the juniors and underclassmen.

“We had to go out of state and to Florida to look at kids. This gives us an opportunity to evaluate kids from Illinois.

“There are a lot of kids from all classes, and we can now put a name and note next to them to keep track of them. This is an excellent opportunity for us.”

Benedictine University men’s assistant coach Mark Tun, who played in the PepsiCo Showdown during his prep career at Saint Viator, said he values the commitment shown by the players to attend the event during the pandemic.

“This gives us another opportunity to see guys that we were interested in last spring, especially after being unable to see them in person for quite some time,” Tun said. “We don’t have to go out of state, so it’s great that there’s an event like this in our backyard in a great facility.”

Lincoln College men’s assistant coach Roberto Yepez traveled nearly 160 miles to attend the event. Yepez spent most of the two-hour plus session jotting down notes on potential recruits.

“This event is super helpful because during the pandemic when most of (recruiting) has been virtual,” Yepez said. “It’s good to get out and see the players in person from all over the place.

“This is great for the kids, because there are a lot of college coaches. It’s great for exposure and they really make it easy for us.

“There’s everything we need to get in touch with players from their school, position, email, phone number, what year they are. We can see how they play here and track them afterwards, too.”

To view coverage from CBS, ABC, WGN and FOX – click HERE.

To read coverage from the goalie combine at the PepsiCo Showdown College Showcase – click HERE.

Bio on reporter: Bob Narang has been covering prep recruiting and sports for the past 26 years. His work also appears in the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald and the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.