The Railroaders took that third seed into the playoffs. And just like in 2005 when the program won its first regional championship, Sparks persevered and knocked off three straight teams in upset victories.
For that no-quit attitude, the Sparks boys soccer team received the Sparks Tribune Boys Team of the Year honor. The honor is chosen by the Sparks Tribune sports staff and goes to the top boys varsity team from one of the Rail City’s three high schools: Reed, Spanish Springs and Sparks.
“It’s always been like that. We bring that to the table. The boys work very, very hard over at Sparks High,” Sparks boys soccer coach Frank Avilla said. “They have a lot of pride in the sport they call soccer. They love it. They eat it and breathe it. They always believe they have a chance until the end. There are a lot of natural leaders there.”
With 15 minutes left in the Northern 3A championship game versus Truckee, the Railroaders had to make up a 2-0 deficit with some late heroics.
Juan Devalos scored the first goal for the Railroaders. In the 71st minute, Hector Hernandez buried the equalizer and later assisted on Eric Ojeda’s game-winner with two minutes left in the contest, earning the opportunity to hang the program’s second regional championship banner.
“It’s a dream come true for anybody who has been in Sparks soccer,” junior defender Noe Espana said of hanging a banner. “To do it twice in the last six years, I just think it will be nice.”
The Railroaders then went on to compete in the state tournament in Mesquite. They used a 1-0 overtime win over Truckee to reach the 3A state championship, but then lost to South Tahoe 3-1, becoming the state runner-up for the second straight year.
Even though the Maroon and Gold couldn’t cap its season with a state championship, it was still a season to never forget for the seniors.
“It was an experience of a lifetime really, winning Zone and making it to the (state) finals again,” senior goalkeeper Javier Torres said. “You couldn’t really ask for more. It just sucks that it’s over.”
Sparks beat every team it played except North Tahoe, which it tied twice. The SHS crew doubled the scoring of its opponents, outscoring them 46-23 in 17 regular and postseason contests. The Railroaders recorded five shutouts.
However, it was two back-to-back games early in the fall in which the Railroaders were blanked that gave some fans worry. In the same week, Sparks traveled to Truckee and South Tahoe and fell 6-0 and 3-0.
When the teams met again in the final week and a half of the regular season, the outcomes were much different. Sparks knocked off Truckee 2-0 and then tied South Tahoe 1-1, preventing the Vikings from racking up a perfect 12-0 record in league.
Still, not many expected the Railroaders to be able to knock off the former 4A powerhouse. But that’s exactly what happened in the regional semifinals when Sparks sent South Tahoe to its only defeat of the season.
“It took a team effort. Everyone else got to them and were intimidated. We saw past them and just played our game,” Torres said. “We knew we could beat them and we did.”
Sparks had plenty of players honored in all-region and all-state lists.
Forward Marco Pintor (19 goals, 12 assists), midfielder Kevin Partida (8 goals, 12 assists), defender Espana and goalkeeper Torres all made the first team all-region and all-state teams.
Ojeda was a second team all-region midfielder, while midfielder Edgar Casillas and defender Hernandez were honorable mentions. Casillas had a strong enough state tournament where he was selected to the first team all-state list.
Avilla is already looking forward to next year and defending the region crown.
“I think we retool. We have a good freshman class coming in,” Avilla said. “We’ve started our offseason conditioning and we’ve had good response in our meetings so far. I think we’re going to be fine. It’s always hard when you lose guys like Marco Pintor. But we’ve had athletes of that caliber leave, and we’ve been blessed to be able to retool, whether it be with their relatives or kids that they played with who were just underclassmen.”