That may be changing. The Railroaders are close to racking up their most wins in a season since they were a competitive 4A program in the late 1990s. On Saturday, the Sparks girls soccer team picked up its first league win since the 2004-05 campaign, downing North Tahoe 2-1 in a 3A Lake League home match.
With the win, Sparks improves to 6-5-2 overall and 1-3-1. Sparks which had tied North Tahoe on the Lakers’ home field last month, kept their postseason hopes alive with the weekend win.
“When you’re in the playoff hunt, it makes a big difference,” Sparks coach Jerry Miller said. “The kids are more serious. They are more intense and they’re willing to sacrifice more.”
North Tahoe (5-4-1, 1-3-1) broke the scoreless deadlock when Dani Pranin scored on a penalty kick just a minute before halftime, forging the California school ahead, 1-1.
In the 46th minute, Sparks tied the game at 1-1 with an unassisted goal by Dennae Soto.
The score remained knotted at a goal apiece until the waning seconds. That’s when SHS freshmen Andrea Gumina got control of a loose ball in front of the North Tahoe net after a Sparks corner kick. She corralled the ball and buried it in the net just before the final whistle.
Railroaders goalkeeper Nora Valenzuela recorded six saves in the winning effort.
“The defense had been a problem for us,” Miller said. “Really, it was the way we were playing defense in the middle. We left wide open gaps. We worked on some things and that’s really made a difference. North Tahoe had someone in their face every time they shot the ball.”
North Tahoe coach Jon Rockwood agreed that the Railroaders' defense was less-than generous Saturday.
“In my opinion, Sparks plays a much different defense than we usually see. There are not a lot of opportunities,” Rockwood said. “They make it pretty dense in the box. They play smart defense. On this day it proved quite effective.”
Sparks hosts Whittell Saturday in key conference clash. It’s set to kick off at noon.
•On Saturday, the Sparks Railroaders did not look like the same team that went to North Tahoe last month and was forced to settle for a scoreless draw. That’s because the SHS club rolled in Saturday’s second meeting between the two schools, burying North Tahoe 6-0 in 3A North boys prep soccer action.
Sparks, which connected on six of its 19 shots Saturday, has had trouble at times finishing on offense throughout the first half of its league schedule. That was not the case in its weekend romp.
“We finished today at home. Up there, we took 32 shots and couldn’t score,” Sparks coach Frank Avilla said. “Maybe they were low percentage shots. But today, we took high percentage shots. We waited for people to collapse on us and we realized if it’s a 1-on-3, then somebody else is open. We really kicked well to space today.”
Unlike the initial meeting between the two schools, Sparks did not let North Tahoe (1-2-2 3A North) hang around and gain confidence. That’s because the Railroaders scored two goals in the first seven minutes and were never really threatened.
“We’re working hard,” Avilla said. “We’ve been working on our communication. At North Tahoe, we didn’t communicate and got caught up in the moment. But today, we made adjustments.”
Cesar Garcia scored in the fifth minute for Sparks, thanks to an assist from Andrew Garcia. Two minutes later, Abi Quintino took an assist from teammate Danny Ornelas and found the net, accounting for the Railroaders’ quick 2-0 edge.
The goal was the first of five on the day for Quintino, one of the top players in the 3A North. The Sparks lead was 3-0 at the half. That’s because Quintino posted an unassisted goal in the 34th minute.
“Sparks is a good team. They’re quick and they pass the ball well,” 10th-year North Tahoe coach Beto Alcaraz said. “We just didn’t follow up on our assignments. The boys were instructed to mark up well and we just got away from our game plan.”
Quintino went back to work after the break. He scored in the 54th minute following an assist from Eric Ojeda. In the 67th minute, Quintino scored again when Ornelas provided another assist.
Quintino capped the match scoring with his final goal at the 69-minute mark. He intercepted a Lakers pass deep in the NTHS defensive zone and popped in a shot for the final 6-0 margin.
Sparks (9-2-2, 3-1-1) has a week off before it returns to the field. The Railroaders’ next game is Saturday at home against Truckee. First kick is slated for 10 a.m.