R-C Sports Notebook: A tip of the hat to the boys’ soccer team | RecordCourier.com

R-C Sports Notebook: A tip of the hat to the boys’ soccer team

by Joey Crandall

It was just 12 weeks ago that Douglas boys’ soccer coach Milko Vasquez surveyed his 2007 team across the practice field and talked frankly about what a struggle it would be to even make the Northern 4A Regional Playoffs this season, just considering the sheer level of talent in the Sierra League.

It’s not that he doubted his team at all, it’s just that everyone else was coming in just as stacked.

He spoke with the same optimism and hope that most coaches exhibit heading into a season.

But it’s a fairly sure bet that at the time, the regional championship game was the furthest thing from Vasquez’s mind.

Fast forward to the beginning of the playoffs, about halfway through the Douglas-Elko quarterfinal game.

The Tigers trailed 1-0, their No. 2 scorer Edgar Arceo was relegated to the midfield to shore up the injury-depleted starting lineup and their No. 3 and 4 scorers Jeff Crozier and Ross Gardner were on crutches on the sidelines, just as they had been for most of the last half of the season.

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Gardner had also been the Tigers’ starting sweeper, and their other top defender, Jose Alcaraz, was in the net, replacing their previous starter who was out for the tournament due to ineligibility.

At that point, most coaches may have even been planning their speech for the postseason awards banquet.

The Tigers never let Vasquez have the chance. They didn’t allow another goal for the rest of the playoffs and scored just enough of their own to take home their first regional title in 10 years.

One parent said during the playoffs, “I come out and support them, but I honestly don’t know how they’re doing this. No one expected them to do this.”

And yet, there they were. Dumping the water cooler on their beloved coach, charging into the bleachers to celebrate with their friends and family, and just starting to think about this week’s state tournament.

What the Tigers accomplished this season was nothing short of amazing.

Early season losses to Wooster and Carson left some doubt, but a 1-0 victory over South Tahoe at the Lake erased a 13-game losing streak to the Vikings and gave the Tigers something big to build on.

They lost once more in the second half, this time to a tricky Reno squad, but topped rival Carson and salvaged a tie at home against the Vikings to enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed out of the Sierra League.

In the Elko game, Douglas quickly tied the game up early in the second half and it had all the appearances of a match that would remain that way into overtime before the speedy Arceo collected a long clear and beat the one remaining defender on a 40-yard carry before hammering home the winning goal with little more than 30 seconds left in the game.

Arceo came up big in the final minutes against Reed in the semifinals as well, this time off a pretty cross-field assist from Ray Kaffer for the game-winner.

And on Saturday it was Kaffer again getting the ball through the tough Viking defense, this time to a wide-open Eddie Vega, for the game-winner late in the first half.

On the season, Douglas outscored its opponents 58-15, but didn’t rely on any one goal scorer as 15 players put at least one ball in the net. Fourteen players had at least one assist and the defense allowed only 0.625 goals per game.

It’s hard to say what will happen this weekend in the state tournament. The odds, as they have all season, would appear to be against the Tigers, what with the depleted bench and the bumped-and-bruised starting lineup.

But then again, this Tiger squad has surpassed appearances all season long. Why should that change now?

Much was made last week about the High Desert League’s recent “dominance” in the regional football playoffs.

So much so, to where one Sierra League coach received a one-game suspension, effective next season, for his comments about the officiating during last year’s playoffs to a Reno newspaper.

One reporter wrote that the Reed football team’s win over Douglas Friday shouldn’t be considered an upset partly because Reed comes from the High Desert League, noting that the High Desert has gone 7-1 in the first round in football over the past two years.

“This is one of those runs that is likely to remain because of the times we live in,” the reporter wrote. “Basically, when it comes to high school athletics, and this is consistent across the country, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Those with the talent and depth now will continue to have it in the future, while those without will continue to struggle to find it.”

I’m not sure where to begin addressing this.

Yes, of course, the High Desert has in large part dominated the first round of the football playoffs in the past few years.

It should be noted, however, that in the four years since McQueen ended its stranglehold on the regional playoffs, the two leagues have evenly split the regional title with Reno and Hug winning in 2003 and 2005.

Reno, incidentally, has been the only state champion during that stretch, another plus for the Sierra League.

Both schools, of course, will ship out to the High Desert next year, but Galena, one of the other four title winners, will move to the Sierra League.

Expand the overall idea to the other sports, and it quickly loses accuracy.

The Sierra League has a 14-10 record so far this school year in the team playoffs (football, volleyball, soccer, tennis) and won nine of the 15 regional titles awarded.

On the other hand, the High Desert League has produced three state champions this season, compared to the Sierra League’s two.

What it comes down to is that each league has its strengths and weaknesses.

I fell into much the same thinking that the Sierra would sweep the first round of the boys’ soccer playoffs, but Reed came out and surprised Wooster and gave Douglas a pretty good run early on in the semifinals.

The Reed girls skated along at No. 2 in this year’s Sierra Nevada Sports Media soccer poll before getting the mild upset over South Tahoe in the championship game.

The tendencies obviously exist. The Sierra League traditionally holds the advantage in volleyball, girls’ cross country and boys’ soccer, while the High Desert tends to control the girls’ soccer realm, as it does with football and boys’ cross country.

Tennis seems to be an even split, with the two singles champions this year coming from the Sierra League, the two doubles champs coming from the High Desert and the team championships going one apiece.

Who knows what the rest of the school year holds, but one just simply can’t say that all of the talent rests on one side or the other.

I can’t even count how many times this season a Douglas football opponent lined up for a punt return with its deep man about 20 to 25 yards away from the line of scrimmage.

Inevitably, the punt returner would be sent scrambling backwards as Douglas punter Jeff Nady boomed another punt off his foot and deep into opposing territory.

Nady is probably the most-heavily recruited defensive player in the Northern 4A this season.

At 6-7, 246 pounds, why wouldn’t he be?

Most schools (California, Colorado State, Nevada and Washington have been among the most common callers) are looking at him as a defensive end.

There’s no question he was a force on the defensive end this year. He had 10 sacks, three fumble recoveries and one interception.

Things didn’t change much when he lined up at defensive end. He was a solid blocker along the outside, opening up that valve on the Tigers’ lethal sweep play, and he was uncoverable as a receiver, catching 11 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns.

But at some point, some college coach is going to have to take a good look at Nady as a Division I punter.

It’s not the most glamorous position on the field by any means, but Nady had a unique ability to change the entire game with a punt this season.

He had all of the things you simply don’t see in punters during high school games. Distance. Hang time. Poise. He shanked two punts out of 31 attempts this season, and both of those came into the extreme wind against Reno. No one returned a punt for a touchdown against Douglas this season. He pinned an opponent inside their one-yard line three times this season and that resulted twice in a safety.

The thing about being recruited as a lineman in the NCAA is there are simply a lot of players who never pan out.

It’s not because they aren’t qualified or talented enough, it’s just that when they start trying to put on some extra weight in a hurry, suddenly they are more prone to injury.

Then there’s always the question of what if the coaching staff changes, and they bring in a different scheme, like a 3-4 as opposed to a 4-3. That’s a whole position’s worth of guys on the depth chart that are molded into different spots or completely excluded.

There’s a lot that can happen, but there’s only one way to punt the ball. On top of that, punting and kicking are some of the only parts in football that don’t change the higher up in the ranks you get.

No matter how big and fast the guys on the other side of the ball are or how complex the opposing scheme is, it’s not going to change how far you can kick the ball.

Look at it this way, Nady’s average is only eight yards off the current NCAA-leading mark.

It’s better than three current starting NFL punters.

A guy like Nady, who has the strength, the speed and the size to make defensive coordinators at the next level drool, but also has the ability to put the ball 60 yards downfield in the air, is going to force some head coach to make a very tough decision at some point.

All I’m saying is that in terms of career-longevity, punting might not be the worst thing in the world.

Lost in the Douglas football season this year was that last year’s road warriors, who won six straight games on the road while their home field was being installed, continued the trend this year.

With all five games on the road this season ending in Tiger victories, Douglas now has an 11-game win streak on other schools’ fields.