The Railroaders rolled to a 27-2 record, but came up short up of winning back-to-back state championships after losing to undefeated SECTA, 3-2, in the state Division I-A final. Still, Sparks was able to claim the school’s third boys soccer regional championship by exacting some revenge on a bitter rival.
Sparks assistant coach Chava Espana, a star on the first Maroon and Gold team to win a regional crown in 2005, said it was the team’s tenacity that helped the Railroaders achieve so much success this past fall. That tenacity and the success that ensued earned the Sparks boys soccer team the recognition as the Sparks Tribune’s Male Team of the Year.
“I’d have to say their tenacity and their willingness to get the job done,” Espana said. “Even when we were down, there were times when they somehow pulled it out. Deep down inside they just said they would get it done.”
Espana pointed out junior Tyler Wittich as a prime example of the team’s tenacity. Wittich, who entered the season as a goalkeeper, suffered an arm injury early on that prevented him from being able to slide or dive.
Espana knew he couldn’t use a goalkeeper who couldn’t slide, so during a game at South Tahoe, Wittich got his chance to play stopper and stepped up huge. Espana said players stepping up was a recurring theme throughout the season.
Another recurring theme was Sparks winning.
The Railroaders opened the fall campaign by winning Galena’s preseason tournament with a shootout victory over eventual large school state champion Bishop Gorman.
The season-opening tournament began a string of 20-straight wins to start the season. Sparks did not taste defeat until it traveled to rival Truckee and lost 2-0 to the Wolverines. Truckee was also the team that ended Sparks’ chance to go undefeated in the 2011 season, winning the regional title in a shootout, before the Railroaders returned the favor in the state championship game.
The Railroaders, who finished in a tie for first place with a 15-1 league mark, took a second seed into the playoffs and knew the Wolverines would likely be waiting at the end of the road.
After splitting the two regular season matchups, there was no question who was the more quality team after Sparks downed Truckee, 3-0, in the Northern I-A final by out-shooting Truckee 14-5.
“The biggest thing was in that Zone championship game, we literally put everything that we discussed into play,” Espana said. “Everything the coaching staff asked them to do and we practiced that week, we literally executed to perfection that day.”
Sparks then went on to win a state semifinal clash against the Clark Chargers, 4-1, setting up the championship with SECTA.
“The biggest thing I’d say was they were strong,” Espana said of SECTA. “The home-field advantage for them was good, but the second biggest thing is they were strong. We’re a finesse team and it’s tough going up against a brute strength team. They just had a better day than we did.”
SECTA went on to win 3-2 to finish the year with a 23-0 mark.
When Sparks returned to the Rail City, there were plenty of honors waiting for its players.
The Railroaders collected 12 all-league selections. Leading the way was Hector Hernandez, who was named the Offensive Player of the Year.
Forwards Ruben Pacheco and Kevin Partida, midfielders Vicente Cervantes and Juan Hernandez, and defender Alvaro Medina were first team all-league selections.
On the second team, Sparks got forward Oscar Gomez and defender Luis Geisendorf.
Cesar Arroyo, Joseph Dominguez, Renaldo Hernandez and Jose Rios were honorable mentions.
“This is one of the best seasons I’ve had. It was exciting (going down to Henderson) for state,” said Dominguez, a junior midfielder, whose favorite part was advancing to the state championship game.
It’s easy to have fun when you’re winning, but the Railroaders this year continued that tight-knit family-like bond the program has been known for ever since coach Frank Avilla took over when Espana was in school.
“It was a lot of fun. I’ve been playing here my whole high school career. These guys are like my family, my best friends, my brothers,” Wittich said. “Being with them and playing soccer with them, it was fun. We’d have these mini tournaments at Fallon. We’d always mess around and have fun on the sidelines between games, trying to find shade and pulling pranks on each other. We just had fun as a group.”