The tough part for the Railroaders is they tend to be undersized compared to the bruising big boys from the Lake schools, so they have to use their speed and finesse along with their desire to overcome that size disadvantage.
But every year, Sparks has a defensive sweeper or stopper in the back that epitomizes the team’s resolve.
At a mere 5-foot-9, captain Noe Espana isn’t the typical defensive presence. But he finds a way to get the job done.
“The first thing Noe has brought to the team is a desire to win. He‘s very secure in his position and in what he does,” Sparks boys soccer coach Frank Avilla said. “He’s a team player. He knows what he wants and is a very determined young man. He keeps everything in perspective and understands the work ethic involved. He’s the glue that keeps everything together. He leads with a good heart and a desire to be the best every time he steps on the field.”
Espana comes from a strong soccer pedigree. His brother, Chava, is arguably the school’s most talented offensive player to come through the ranks. Chava helped lead the Maroon and Gold to its first boys soccer regional championship in 2005 and is now a JV coach at SHS.
Noe never got a chance to watch Chava play in high school because he was living in Las Vegas when he was younger, but he wishes he had that chance. Instead, the two brothers have compared experiences in their regional championship seasons. Noe was part of last year’s title run, the second in the program’s history. It was also the second straight season Sparks finished second at state.
“We’re really close. He’s my mentor,” Noe said of his brother. “I’ve always looked up to him, so he’s always been there for me. Last year was great. To get two chances to go to state and not be able to finish, it’s a little heartbreaking. I’m confident that if we keep our heads and focus, we’ll be able to take it home this year.”
Noe Espana has been involved with the Sparks soccer program since he was a team manager in the eighth grade. He’s started for four years and has been a main anchor on defense for three.
This year’s defense is well on its way to establishing itself as a premier force. In a dozen regular season games, Sparks has only allowed goals in two games, recording shutouts in the 10 other contests. Counting Galena’s preseason tourney, the Railroaders sit at 18-0 overall. They are also 8-0 in the 3A Sierra League, with four league contests to go.
“I’ve always said that’s where our bread and butter is made. It starts from there and works its way down,” Avilla said. “Noe takes pride in our shutouts. It’s no different than years past. We’ve had a strong contingent of sweepers and stoppers as well as defensive mids. Noe is no exception to that. He’s taken the responsibility. What we do at Sparks High is everyone leads by example.”
Espana goes about his business and his teammates see that, making him a respected captain even though he’s not very vocal on the field.
“He just loves his sport and it shows every time he walks on the field,” Avilla said. “He’s a silent leader by example. He and Mitchell Garcia are our captains. Noe is the inspiration for Mitchell. He sacrifices a lot to do what he does at Sparks High. He’s got a hectic schedule, so it’s just a tribute to his time management skills and knowing what he wants in life. At 18, he’s just a breath of fresh air for learning how to play the game properly. He exemplifies the word student-athlete.”
Espana is the student body president, the senior class vice president, Block S Club president, a National Honor Society member and the drum major in the band.
Espana has been in contact with the coaching staff at Lassen Community College and hopes to play soccer there. He also has interned in the sports medicine field and enjoyed that, so he looks to pursue a degree and career in sports medicine or health ecology.