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Las Vegas looks to repeat as 4A boys soccer state champions

Updated August 21, 2019 - 5:37 pm

It’s unlikely any players or coaches around the state were losing sleep over the possibility of facing Las Vegas at this time last year.

Why would they have been? The Wildcats were a young team that had failed to produce a winning record in league play the year before.

Nobody is sleeping on Las Vegas this year.

It might be an overstatement to say it came out of nowhere, but there couldn’t have been many who predicted the Wildcats’ 21-1-1 season that included a dominating run to the Class 4A boys state soccer championship. It was the first title for Las Vegas since it went back-to-back in 2008 and 2009.

“As a coach, we always think about winning,” Las Vegas coach Rafael Mitjans said. “We talked to the kids at the beginning of last season and told them we had a big chance to do something really good. We told them the only things that can lose for us is us – grades, behavior, we had some kids with red cards that couldn’t play — because we look very good.”

That was a high level of confidence for a squad that had one senior on the roster, but Mitjans saw the work the team was putting in.

He marveled at how his team wore down opponents and, as Sergio Aguayo put it, “outran everybody in the second half.”

Aguayo epitomized that better than anyone when he scored three of his team’s four goals during an eight-minute stretch early in the second half of the state championship game, a 5-1 win over Coronado. Aguayo had been carted off during a semifinal game the day before and spent time in the hospital with a hip injury, but his final performance showed his team’s will to play and win.

“These kids are true Wildcats. They love the school, they love the sport, and that makes a huge difference,” Mitjans said. “When you play a competitive sport like it’s a hobby, that’s OK, but it’s a little different when you love the school and love the team you play for. They’re trying their best, and you can see that in every practice and every game.”

The only stumbles for Las Vegas came at the midpoint of last season, a 1-1 tie against Bonanza and 3-2 loss to Cimarron-Memorial.

After that, the Wildcats rarely had to stress the outcome. They edged Palo Verde 5-4 in a regular-season game and then 3-1 in what proved to be their closest playoff game. When it was all tallied up, Las Vegas outscored opponents 25-2 in its six postseason matches, with four shutouts.

“It feels amazing because I’d never won state before for anything,” senior Rigoberto Carrasco said. “It was a great feeling to know we’re the best in the state.”

Because the Wildcats had one senior last year, they have plenty of talent returning at every level of the pitch.

They have their goalkeeper back in Rodolfo Gomez and other key players such as Aguayo and Nathan Zamora at forward, and Rigoberto and Diego Carrasco in the midfield and on the wing, respectively. Aguayo was the Wildcats’ top scorer and received first-team all-state accolades.

The Wildcats are the top team in the state and received votes in the USA Today preseason top 25. But they know everybody in the state will be looking to knock them off.

“It’s going to be harder, but it’s not like we’re going to step away and let anybody beat us,” Aguayo said.

Contact Jason Orts at jorts@reviewjournal.com. Follow on Twitter @SportsWithOrts.

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