Small-budget Chargers chase big goals

Money might not buy happiness, but it certainly appears to contribute to success in high school athletics.

Southern Nevada long has been a case in point. Schools such as Bishop Gorman, Centennial and Green Valley have nabbed a disproportionate number of league and state championships in the past decade or two, often at the expense of less fortunate inner-city schools.

Though Clark soccer coach Juan Chavez knows the evidence is overwhelming, he doesn’t really care. He led the Chargers to an 18-3-2 record and a state tournament appearance last season, despite the disadvantages. And he did it with a small budget and few year-round club players.

He hopes to do it again.

Clark, which played Cimarron-Memorial to a 1-1 tie in the opener Tuesday, starts the season with aspirations of a state title. Chavez said his team’s work ethic could be the key to conquering the odds.

"I’m out there every day, even on weekends, so we can have a winning season," he said. "I think this team is actually better than last year’s."

Chavez said soccer is unique in the sense that players can excel without the years of elite club experience that are a common necessity among athletes in sports such as volleyball and basketball. Year-round club ball costs money, something many Clark students lack.

"It has something to do with the type of kids that go to Clark," said Chavez, who noted that soccer is a way of life to much of the student body there. "There is so much talent. And our kids participate in other (less expensive) leagues, just not in club. These kids can’t afford that."

In an odd way, the situation has helped Chavez’s squad, which caught many opponents off guard last season.

"We went further than a lot of teams expected us to," said Chavez, whose team was eliminated in the state tournament by eventual champion Las Vegas. "Now when we play teams, they really give it their all. We like that because it brings our best game out."

Clark midfielder Miguel Gomez agreed.

"I’ve heard everybody is waiting for us," the returning senior said. "And we’re waiting to play them."

There’s one possible snag, however. Chavez admitted he’s not certain how good his team will be because he is facing yet another obstacle common to inner-city schools: eligibility.

"The biggest problem we have is grade issues," he said. "We’ve lost a lot of good players because of grades."

While that’s true, Chavez is looking forward to the return of at least a few of last year’s leaders.

Senior Salvador Bernal is among the most feared scorers in the state. He had 30 goals last season and has the potential to top that number.

He also has the potential to help the Chargers surpass last year’s accomplishments.

"I think we will make the playoffs," Chavez said. "We want to look at winning that regional title game. Our goal is to win the title and play for state."

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