"It was just something special," Douglas boys' soccer coach Milko Vasquez said Monday afternoon, almost under his breath, thinking back on the last three months.
"I always tell the kids that half the battle is believing, and they believed. But then you also have to have the horses to compete. We had that this year. They really showed in the last two weeks what they were capable of."
With this year's senior class came the fruition of something Vasquez began building nearly six years ago. He started with a U13 spring squad that boasted a roster of exactly 11 players.
"I told them at the start that as long as they all showed up for every game, it wouldn't matter," Vasquez said. "If they didn't, we'd forfeit. It was simple."
But that wasn't the only bump in the road.
"As a U13 team, there was nowhere for them to go, so we started playing them in the U14s," Vasquez said. "We lost our first seven games."
What started out as a potentially disasterous situation suddenly started to show some promise.
"We only had 11 guys, so there was no bench," Vasquez said. "They'd be dead by the end of every game. Even so, we were only losing 1-0, 2-1, scores like that.
"Then we started playing .500 ball and I started thinking, 'Hey, these kids play together pretty well. They're going to be something to be reckoned with in a few years.'"
The core of that group, Jose Alcaraz, Austin Shick, Geoff Rahe, Ray Kaffer and Kyle Gardner was joined the next year by Oscar Gonzalez and Eddie Vega, who had been playing club soccer in Carson City.
By their freshman year Dustin Goldade and Robbie Forest had joined their ranks and Vasquez knew the next several years would be exciting.
"They were a pretty talented group," Vasquez said. "When they were freshmen on the junior varsity team (coached by current Douglas girls' coach Lorraine Fitzhugh) they beat Carson. That year a lot of the other teams had a lot of sophomores while our JVs were all freshman. That showed that this group was going to be something else."
After South Tahoe ended Douglas' season last year in the regional semifinals, the seniors-to-be decided to simply do everything within their power to not let their season end with a loss again.
They nearly succeeded.
"I didn't coach them last spring, but they came in ready in August," Vasquez said. "They showed up in shape, they came in with better touch on the ball. I saw a team that had dedicated themselves to get better individually and as a team."
The Tigers in turn ran off a school record 20 wins, including two over South Tahoe ( a team that had beaten Douglas 13 consecutive times leading into this year), one over rival Carson, and of course won the Northern 4A Regional title.
Through the middle of it all, Douglas was again short on the bench, this time due to injuries " not lack of participation " and it almost seemed that those thin early years came into practice.
Except this time, the Tigers were coming out on top in those 1-0, 2-1 games.
This past weekend, Douglas won the school's first boys' soccer state playoff game in a nail-biter penalty kick shootout over Silverado, coming back from two kicks down in the shootout to pick up the 2-1 win.
And even at the end of the state title game, with the nagging injuries beginning to take their toll on seemingly anyone dressed in a black uniform, it was the Tigers who put forth four of the final five scoring opportunities. Any one of those might have tied the game had the ball bounced just a little this way or that.
Even with nothing left in the tank, Douglas was the one pressuring the ball when the final whistle blew.
For Vasquez, it was no surprise. After all, it was the same thing he'd seen out of this group since he'd first met them.
"It's one of those times where it's hard to smile, but I was smiling at the end," he said. "It was great to see."
Western Nevada College announced last week that their women's soccer program would be dropped for next year.
That came as a big blow to Northern Nevada players, particularly at Douglas High, as the Wildcats had become a prime outlet to continue playing after high school.
In the three years the Wildcats fielded a team, nine former Tigers took the field for them. Two, Courtney Lenhart and Jessica Maule, used the experience to vault to the next level as each began playing at four-year schools this season.
In their announcement, college officials stated that they'd explore adding another women's sport " softball or volleyball. Either one of those would be a benefit to the local athletes in those sports, but it is a shame to see that athletes who had already been a part of establishing a successful program will be out looking for a new place to play next season.
Based on the cumulative votes in the Sierra Nevada Sports Media poll, here are the top-ranked overall athletic programs based on football, boys' soccer, girls' soccer and volleyball for the fall season.
1. Douglas, 141 points
2. Reno, 122 points
3. McQueen, 118 points
4. Truckee, 107 points
5. Reed, 106 points