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 email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @SportsWithOrts.
Teams to watch
Las Vegas: The Wildcats lost one game en route to winning the Class 4A state title, their first since 2009. They appear to be loaded again, having lost one senior from last year’s team.
Coronado: Last year’s 4A state finalist claimed the Desert Region regular-season crown with a 10-1-1 record.
Cimarron-Memorial: The only team to defeat Las Vegas High last season won the Mountain Region regular-season title and went 20-2-2.
Durango: The Trailblazers clawed their way to the state semifinals and have 11 seniors on their roster eager for one final shot at a title.
Western: The 3A state champion Warriors will have to reload after losing seven seniors, but this year’s senior class of 12 has a wealth of experience and success.
Players to watch
Sergio Aguayo, Las Vegas: The junior scored 25 goals last season to lead the Wildcats to the 4A state championship.
Caden Buckley, Bishop Gorman: The senior helped the Gaels shut out 12 opponents and was named the 4A Desert Region Defensive Player of the Year.
Yobani Garcia-Benitez, Tech: The senior had 10 shutouts to earn 4A Desert Region Goalkeeper of the Year honors.
Alejandro Plazola, Eldorado: The senior was the backbone of a defense that propelled the Sundevils to eight shutouts and a 4A state tournament appearance.
Tre Towers, Cimarron-Memorial: The anchor of a defense that allowed 0.8 goals per game last season as a junior.