“I don’t think there will be much difference between this year’s team and last year’s,” Avilla said. “I think we’re a little bit faster. All the kids have taken into the system that we have here at Sparks High. They’ve been working hard. We’ve seen a lot of good commitment and I think that we’re going to be right up there again. Nobody can say we’re going to win it all, but I do think we’re going to compete very well. I know we’ll be competitive and we’ll represent well.”
Part of the reason Avilla is so optimistic about his team is the early progress it has shown before its first match of the season.
“I’ve been impressed with a lot of different things. Our touch, our speed, our knowledge to kick to space and our knowledge to play as a team has really shown,” Avilla said. “That’s been our motto here at Sparks High and the kids are displaying that a little bit sooner than we’ve seen in years past. I think that comes with their confidence and also their ability to really buy into it.”
The success of the 2011 state champions is partly responsible for the Railroaders’ new found confidence.
“As a program as a whole, I think there’s a little bit more pride instilled in it,” Avilla said. “The kids know and they’re accepting more responsibility. They’re proud and the school is proud of what we did. I see a lot of new faces, a lot of new juniors who didn’t come out their freshman and sophomore years. So the word has got out that we have a good tradition here and it looks like we’re going to continue to follow our tradition here.”
Sparks’ championship run is affecting another Rail City school as well. Taking over the program at Reed High School, head coach Joel Martinez is bringing along with him that winning mentality.
“In the eight years that I was the assistant at Sparks High, we made it to the playoffs every year. I think as far as experience goes, I bring that experience with me and I’m bringing that pride to the boys,” Martinez said. “I told them ‘Believe in yourselves, believe in your team, believe in your community and school and you’ll make it that far.’ The coaches aren’t the ones out there playing. It’s the 11 guys out there at the time. Each one of them at some point has to play better than they have before to get to that next level. They have to be above average. They have to be great.”
With a fresh start under Martinez, the Raiders are gearing up for the season with high hopes.
“The kids’ dedication and commitment to the program has been great. Each one of those kids, they’re committed,” Martinez said. “They show that pride and dedication that they need to win. We haven’t made it to the playoffs in the last three years and the kids, especially the seniors, want to go out with a zone and hopefully state appearance.
“The experience has been awesome. We have a lot of parent support and administrators that are excited about the new season. That kind of stuff excites you. It excites the kids and the coaching staff. It’s just another reason to qualify for zone and to make it big.”
Cross-town rival Spanish Springs is another team that will be looking for the same type of success.
“We have a lot of good guys coming out,” Spanish Springs coach Rob Moreland said. “We have like 24 guys on our roster and they are all pretty good, so that’s exciting.”
As the Cougars prepare for their season opener, the team continues to gel with a number of new faces on the squad, including transfers from Utah, Arkansas and Denmark.
“They’re fitting right in and enjoying themselves. They’re all doing fine,” Moreland said. “We have a lot of good kids coming back from last year. We’ve doing a lot of combination work, working together as a team and talking and communicating.”
With two-time High Desert League Midfielder of the Year Irvin Somera having graduated, Moreland said the ability of the team to work together will be key to its success.
“You can’t ever replace a player like Irvin. You just hope other kids get better,” Moreland said. “It wasn’t just Irvin though and we’re playing more like a team than we did last year. We had good individuals last year, but now we have good individuals that are playing together and that’s what we were missing last year.
“They’ve shown a willingness to work and they’re working off the ball. The unselfish runs are showing up early, and that’s really neat to see. They’re working for each other.”
With a strong team core in place, Moreland believes the sky is the limit for the Cougars.
“I think we can take it all the way this year, and I mean that,” Moreland said. “I think we have a good squad. I think we’re as good, if not better than last year. We’ll see how we stack up. I’m just excited to see these guys grow as a team. I want to see them grow and compete and do well. It’ll be exciting to see them learn and enjoy their season.”