The Railroaders had just completed an improbable 2005 regional championship run that included upsets over Truckee and North Tahoe, teams that had beaten the Railroaders easily during the regular season.
But on a chilly autumn night at
North Valleys, Truckee simply out muscled Sparks for a 2-0 state semifinal win en route to a state championship.
This time around, Sparks isn’t entering the state tourney on a high. There’s no worry about an anticlimactic finish to the season. There’s only one thing on the mind of the Railroaders and that’s reaching the state championship game.
“They didn’t just come to play Zone. Their mission at the start of the year was to get to state and try to win and let’s see what happens if we work hard,” Sparks boys soccer coach Frank Avilla said.
In order to advance, the Maroon and Gold will have to get by Virgin Valley, the Southern Nevada champion, which protected its No. 1 seed throughout regionals.
The Mesquite, Nev. school was 7-0-1 during league play but narrowly won the regional championship by a 3-2 margin over Boulder City, which was only 4-1-3 in league.
Unlike other sports where Northern and Southern Nevada foes are able to challenge each other in non-league matchups, soccer is a sport in which the geographical boundaries tend to remain until the state playoffs.
That provides the challenge of not knowing how to game plan for the opponent, but Sparks is going to focus on itself and hope that’s good enough.
“We’re looking forward to representing our region against a Southern Nevada school. By no means are we looking past them,” Avilla said. “We play Incline and Truckee all the time. We fared well against Truckee, but that doesn’t mean they are out of it. I want both of them to beat each up other instead of us beating each other up.”
In the other semifinal, the two participants from the North are very familiar with each other. No. 1 seed Incline and No. 3 Truckee have played each other three times — with the Highlanders coming away with three victories.
The Wolverines will need to try to slow Incline’s Alex Reyes-Manrriquez, a 35-goal scorer on the season.
Sparks struggled with the Highlanders forward last Saturday, but Avilla believed his team could have overcome Reyes-Manrriquez’s hat trick.
“Alex Reyes is one of the top players in the league, but we’ve got top players in our league also,” Avilla said. “If you took a look at that game, we had our opportunities. If we converted our opportunities, we could have won the game 4-3. Finishing has been one of our issues, and it reared its head.”
Railroader players also think they could knock off the top seed and hand Incline its first 3A loss of the year.
“I’m pretty confident. The games have been close. They haven’t been 5-0. We haven’t been shut out,” senior defender Pepe Mercado said.
The Railroaders will kick off the state tourney with a noon contest Friday at Golden Eagle Regional Park in Sparks.
The state championship will be held at Damonte Ranch Saturday at 4 p.m.
Qualifying for the state tournament has been a thrill for Sparks players, especially the four-year starters.
“We’ve been playing since our freshman year, and it’s the first time going this far. It should be exciting, playing a Vegas team, too for the first time,” senior Ivan Torres said.
Senior forward Abi Quintino shared similar sentiments.
“Right now it’s the best thing to ever happen to me. It took me four years to get here,” Quintino said. “I’ve always wanted to get to state and win a state championship for Sparks. My family is happy and I’m happy. The team is happy and we know we can do this. We have the confidence in ourselves.”