Sparks, which won the Northern 3A regional last weekend in Fallon, heads south to Mesquite for state tournament play. The Railroaders meet Northern 3A No. 2 seed Truckee in a state semifinal at 4 p.m. Friday at the City of Mesquite Sports Park, which features artificial grass turf fields, much like Golden Eagle Park in north Sparks.
“This is the allure of high school athletics,” Sparks coach Frank Avilla said. “The kids are very excited about this trip. They know how important it is to represent the community, their families and themselves. I'm very happy for them.
“It's a little frustrating we have to play a North team again, but that's the way it is and we have to a accept it until the South gets more teams to qualify. This is the way we have to do it to get a viable tournament.”
Northern 3A No. 3 seed South Tahoe meets Southern 3A champion Boulder City in the other state semifinal, also slated for 4 p.m. Saturday's final will pit the semifinal winners in a 10 a.m. meeting.
Sparks (12-3-3) earned its state tourney trip with a perfect run through regionals last week. Sparks won a quarterfinal over Fallon 2-0, knocked off South Tahoe in a semifinal 2-1 and then rallied to steal a 3-2 win from Truckee in the final.
“Our goal from the start of the season was just to make the playoffs,” Avilla said. “We discussed that and that's as far as we went with goals. We just wanted to continue to work hard and see what happened. We knew we had to work hard and improve each week. The kids have worked hard to achieve what they have.
“Now that we're here, I'd be fibbing to you if I didn't say we're excited about the chance of winning state.”
The Railroaders practiced on the football field at Sparks High Monday and Tuesday and will do so again today. Sparks players and coaches then hop on a bus Thursday for the cross-state trip to Mesquite. The squad should reach their southern Nevada destination by late-afternoon/early evening and will get a chance to practice on the turf at the state tourney fields.
Playing on turf won't be a new experience to Sparks this fall. The Railroaders have already played on artificial tracks three times this season. Avilla said he's glad his team will get a chance to practice on the tourney surface before suiting up Friday, but as far as this week's approach to practice, there's not much different.
“We're of the old adage, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it,’” Avilla said. “We'll work within the same practice plans that have gotten us this far. But we can still always improve our touch, kicking to space, on our defense and finishing. I see good work ethic. It's all coming to fruition. The boys are working hard.”
The Railroaders are a confident bunch, but that doesn't mean the SHS coaches don't have concerns. Avilla said his team has a long road trip and many potential distractions on its horizon.
“We need a disciplined approach,” he said. “We're going down there to play soccer first and foremost. It's an exciting trip, but we've got to keep them wrapped up and understanding what our focus is. Beyond that, they can enjoy their surroundings.”