Vikings shoot for first state soccer title
Centennial hasn’t lost a boys’ soccer match since Sept. 19. South Tahoe High’s last loss came on Oct. 27, 2001 in a zone quarterfinal to Sparks.
One unbeaten streak will end in the 4A state semifinals on Friday in Las Vegas. On paper, neither team has underdog credentials.
South Tahoe won the Sierra Division and Northern 4A Regional championship while compiling a 21-0-2 record. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were unbeaten and untied in Sunset Region’s Northwest Division play and then they upset Bishop Gorman 2-1 last Saturday to win the regional championship. Both of their losses came during the same week — a 3-2 defeat to Bishop Gorman and a 2-1 loss to Bonanza, which the Bulldogs drilled 8-1 at regionals.
Centennial brings a 15-1-2 record into Friday’s 3 p.m. semifinal at Cimarron-Memorial High School. In the other semifinal, defending state champion Chaparral will meet Bishop Gorman.
The Vikings resumed practice on Tuesday in the school’s gym since their playing field at South Tahoe Middle School was wet from last Saturday’s snowstorm. Ninth-year coach Joe Winters was hopeful of returning to the practice field on Wednesday before embarking to Las Vegas by plane on Thursday.
The Bulldogs used goals by Bren Valles and Josh Starbird seven minutes apart in the first half to edge Bishop Gorman in the Sunset Regional finals. Fourteen different Bulldogs have scored goals for fourth-year coach Rick Kazee this season.
“We don’t have a superstar,” said Kazee, who coached Cheyenne to the 1997 finals, where the Desert Shield lost to Carson. “We have good support of club players, so it’s been more like putting the pieces of the puzzle together.”
Valles and Tyler Canada, senior co-captains, have played for Kazee for four seasons. Canada is the Bulldogs’ leading scorer.
Centennial got Winters’ attention when the Bulldogs knocked Gorman from the unbeaten ranks.
“I don’t think they’re where they are, beating a team like Bishop Gorman, without being good and having a lot of confidence coming in,” Winters said. “I think it’s going to be a challenge, but I think these guys are up to it.
“It’s a lot easier coaching a team like this because you don’t have to worry about all the psycho babble. In the past, I had teams I believed in more than they believed in themselves. These guys definitely believe in themselves, and that’s a plus.”
Kazee only knows about South Tahoe through Internet, discerning that Alex Torres is a key Viking to stop.
“The Torres kid is their money man, so we’ll keep an eye on him,” Kazee said.
Torres, a junior, served as a decoy throughout the postseason, although he had a handful of good scoring opportunities against Reed in the regional championship last Saturday.
Junior Enrique Avina scored twice, while sophomore Corey Vermillion knocked in the Vikings’ other goal in a 3-0 victory.
“Teamwork does it all,” Avina said. “If we want to do it ourselves, we wouldn’t be able to win that much.”
Joe Winters has four players — Torres, Noe Estrada, Leon Abravanel and Tim Head — who were part of the 2000 team that lost to Durango 2-1 in the state semifinals.
“Those guys know what that game was like and they know it’s a realistic goal (to win down there),” Winters said. “Confidence has a lot to do with it. In the past, a lot of our teams have been young and haven’t been in a big game.”
Abravanel is hoping to catch the Bulldogs looking ahead to a possible rematch with Gorman.
“Obviously they are going to be very skilled, athletic and big,” Abravanel said. “All we have to do is play our game. They’re not expecting anything to come out of the North. We’re going to surprise them.”
The junior midfielder is hoping to provide Winters with something that has eluded him since he became STHS’s coach in 1994.
“I want to win for coach because he hasn’t won a state championship,” Abravanel said.
If the Vikings get past Centennial, they will try to win the first boys’ state soccer title in school history at 11 a.m. Saturday.
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