Boys’ Soccer: Tigers overcame rough start to qualify for state
Heading into the second half of the Sierra League season, Douglas boys’ soccer coach Milko Vasquez was hoping for something a bit unusual for his team.
A blowout loss.
At the time, the Tigers were 3-3-1 in league play and were looking in at the playoff picture from the fifth-place spot. Normally, you’d want a season-defining win.
“We just were not doing the right things at the time,” Vasquez said. “But it’s hard for a team to believe that when they are still winning. We were looking, as coaches, for them to get their butts beaten.”
On Oct. 7, Douglas had a back-breaking 4-1 loss at home to defending regional champ Galena, a team the Tigers had beaten in Reno just three weeks prior. The Grizzlies scored all four goals in the first 21 minutes and, just to add insult to injury, also got credit for Douglas’ only goal of the game after a late corner kick caromed off a Galena defender and into the net.
“That game showed us we weren’t mentally ready to even be thinking about the playoffs,” Vasquez said. “I gave them the next day off and I wanted them to think about what they really wanted to do.
“They took it to heart. It was all on them, that’s the greatest thing about what they did.”
The Tigers went 4-1-1 over the last month of the regular season, upsetting fourth-ranked Carson 2-1, tying eventual regional champ Manogue 0-0, beating No. 6 Wooster 3-2 and clinching a playoff berth in the season finale with an exciting 1-0 win over the upstart Fallon Greenwave.
Douglas rode the momentum of that streak to upend High Desert League champ Reed 2-1 (5-4 shootout) in the first round of the playoffs and brought everything full circle against Galena in the regional semifinals.
This time it was the Tigers who came out on fire, blasting three goals in the first 24 minutes and racing ahead to a 4-1 win, reversing the score of the midseason loss.
The impressive run drew comparisons to Douglas’ 2004 squad headed by Colten Mellows, which faced elimination through the final three weeks of the regular season only to end up in the regional title game against Carson.
“This season, the way it played out, was almost identical to 2004,” Vasquez said. “That team was the same way. We hadn’t done anything up to the halfway point and then they caught fire and rode it all the way to the championship game.”
With the state tournament in the north this year, though, the Tigers received an automatic bid to state with their regional runner-up finish.
“I think heading into the year that none of us really envisioned getting to state,” said Vasquez, whose Tigers missed the playoffs entirely in 2008. “We all hoped it, but with the immensity of the challenge, it would have been futile to think we were going to state.
“I think the boys’ soccer Sierra League is the toughest there is in any of the high school sports around here. You see it every year. Everyone gets beat by everyone else. The, you see the Sierra League teams dominate the postseason (A Sierra League team has won the regional title for at least the last eight consecutive seasons).
“With the kids doing what they did this year, just to even make the playoffs, says a lot about their character. It’s a knock down, drag out fight every game. You have some major battles every game and whoever perseveres the most makes it.”
Douglas fell 2-0 in the regional championship game, but gave a potent Las Vegas offense all it could handle in the state semifinals before a late goal ended the Tigers’ season with a 1-0 loss.
“It came down to that critical point of the season and they answered the call as a group,” Vasquez said. “We kept warning them that the season only gets harder from here, and they kept playing better.
“Everyone was of the same mindset, and we just had so many individuals step up at crucial moments and make plays for us. That’s something we talk about a lot is that you are only as good as your last player.
“We had a good group of leaders, but there was always someone doing what we needed them to do.
“Audrick Anderson had a huge goal to win the game against Fallon. Tyler Bankofier and Rafael Alves were difference makers in the Carson game. Justin Draper had some real quality games early in the season.
“Corbin Zumpft made a move to the outside and did so much for us out there, having to take on and contain some of the best opposing players in the region. He had some major responsibility out there and held up so well. Scott Chandler and Gavin Fitzhugh grew so much at the fullback positions and Troy Cohee had a very noticeable rise in the middle. Everyone contributed, not one person just sat there and let the season go by. At some point, everyone on the roster had to be accountable to the rest of the team, and they all stepped up to the task.”
Douglas will be losing a substantial chunk of its starting lineup, including first-team all-leaguers Edgar Arceo, Brian Randall and Ivan Gonzalez.
Starters Cole Cline, Luke Prinz, Edgar Gonzalez, Fernando Ramos, Tyler Bankofier and Zumpft will also be gone, leaving just a handful of players with starting experience.
To add to it, the Tigers will be losing four of their top five goal scorers along with their top four leaders in assists.
Still, 10 lettermen are expected back, all of whom gained valuable experience during the playoff run.
“These boys showed the younger generation what it takes to compete in this league,” Vasquez said. “These teams seem to come along every couple of years. Hopefully next year we can compete again. They need to understand that in June we need to be prepared to go to work.
“As a team, they all just left it out there. They saw what it took and that’ll pay off in the long run.”
Joey Crandall can be reached at (775) 782-5121, ext. 212.