First-round state exit has become a Viking curse
That’s one way to describe South Tahoe’s fate at Cimarron-Memorial High School for the 4A state soccer championship Friday and Saturday.
The Vikings, among the top four teams in state and arguably much better, returned with the “one-and-out” curse that’s haunted them for the past three seasons.
Two years ago, the Vikes were knocked out of state in the first round by Durango 2-1. Last year, the team lost in the first round of the Northern Region zone against Sparks after finishing as the No. 1 seed from the Sierra Division. They went the whole 2002 season trying to outrun that memory until it was time to put it down.
A 2002 Northern Region title helped them accomplish that, but the curse and a new, equally-painful memory may, in fact, be back with a first-round loss at state in 2002.
The team arrived Thursday night, and spent a brief part of their trip viewing the Vegas “Strip.” Some even got the chance to ride a small roller coaster.
The Vikings arrived at Betty Wilson Memorial Fields next to the high school on Friday ready to play.
The air there smelled fresh. The weather was bright and balmy.
The Vikings looked primed, pumped and ready to play.
But the warm welcome gave way to a disappointing 2-0 loss to Centennial, the No. 1 seed from the Southern Region’s Sunset Division.
The Vikings played hard against the Bulldogs, but just couldn’t score. Too many shots went wide or high.
Losing Enrique Avina to injury in the first few minutes hurt the whole team, although it didn’t appear to affect them until the Bulldogs scored, then bolstered their defense.
The Vikings’ poise and control gave way to frustration and, ultimately, defeat.
Alex Torres and Victor Mariscal received yellow cards. The Vikings tight passing game turned more to the long ball strike, which seemed to benefit the Bulldogs by knocking time off the clock.
Scoring is something the Vikings are used to doing. They haven’t been shut out since 2001.
The opportunities that slipped away in the first half kept coming late in the game, “but it wasn’t meant to be,” coach Joe Winters said.
The Vikings were caught out of their element, trailing for one of the few times this year and feeling the anxiety of the clock ticking away.
Few players on the team likely felt the loss more than the three seniors who will not have a chance at “next year.”
Noe Estrada wrapped the front of his shirt over his head momentarily after the final whistle. Fabian Perez and Tony Garcia must have felt the same way.
I piled in the van with Don Borges, South Tahoe’s athletic director, and a handful of players after the game. No one said much.
“So what happened out there? Was it there defense or there offense?” Borges asked after a while. Suddenly the chatter picked up.
“It was both,” came a voice from the front seat. Someone else said that the Bulldogs were older and stronger.
The player next to me sent them all back to silence: “We did it to ourselves,” he said.
At the hotel, the Vikings shuffled out of the van and to their hotel rooms. Some stayed to watch Bishop Gorman defeat Chaparral 3-2 Friday night. Some wanted a distraction from soccer.
Borges drove me back to my hotel, on the other side of town. We talked about the growth in Vegas and the advantage that some high schools have with large enrollment and growth, something Tahoe hasn’t seen in a while.
The Vikings’ curse stuck with them for one more year and shows no sign of lifting.
But the Vikings are a young team that will lose few of its talented players.
And they know what it means to win a state title. They watched Bishop Gorman come back in the second half of the championship to defeat Centennial 4-2 Saturday.
Now they know what little misses can cost them in a state game.
The trick will be getting to sunny Las Vegas again next year, and leaving the curse that hangs over their heads like a stormy cloud during zone and state at home.
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