It was the Cougars’ (17-1-2) first loss of the season but coach Rob Moreland’s confidence in his group remained unhindered. If anything, his faith in his team grew.
The Cougars play Eldorado (19-0-1) in the semifinals 12:30 p.m., Friday, at Carson but Moreland already scheduled the bus home – for Saturday.
“You got to see it to make it happen,” Moreland said. “That is what I want these guys to understand. If they don’t see it, it will never happen.”
Spanish Springs’ second state tournament appearance in four years (also in 2010) unofficially places the Cougars in the upper-echelon of boys soccer programs in Nevada.
The Cougars state-tournament debut was brief, losing 2-0 in the semifinals.
When Moreland took over in 2008, the Cougars were coming off their first playoff appearance in school history. They were a one-and-done in the regional tournament after finishing fourth.
Tryout numbers were low. Moreland recalls around 30 kids trying out his first year. The low numbers were a result of limited interest in the program and the inability of a number of potential players to make grades. Spanish Springs’ sixth-year coach inserted a tutoring program.
Moreland also felt an overall sense of confidence was lacking in the program. So he held the players to greater accountability.
“I started raising the bar and said you have to meet this standard and I think they felt someone cared about them and wanted to make them better,” Moreland said. “That was something new to them.”
In his third year, Moreland won a North Region title.
Including 2010, the Cougars have advanced to the North title game three of the last four years and tryout numbers spiked. More than 60 players tried out last fall.
The next hill to climb for Moreland and the Cougars: Winning a game at state and eventually a state title.
Spanish Springs will get its shot at the latter, Friday, in Carson against the Sunrise League champion, Sundevils.
Eldorado cruised through its regional tournament outscoring opponents 15-4.
The Sundevils are led offensively by three of the top eight scorers in southern Nevada. Andres Lua (28 goals) is second. Chris Perez (25 goals) is tied for fourth. And Justin Lyons (24 goals) is tied for seventh.
Eldorado’s coach Jerry Pentsil said his team is explosive but occasionally takes a while to start clicking offensively.
“It (our offense) has been fun to watch but sometimes we don’t start off very strong,” Pentsil said. “We don’t come out and score a lot of goals.”
Moreland said he plans to counter the Sundevils’ potent offense by constantly pressuring the ball.
As the Cougars stake their claim as one of the best teams in the state, Eldorado already has. The Las Vegas school has advanced to the state tournament for the third straight year. Hug and Bishop Gorman (state champions) have dismissed Eldorado in the semifinals the last two years, however.
“There is a big incentive to get past this game,” Pentsil said. “It’s not me having to preach what it’s like to get past it, a lot of players have experienced it (losing in the first round) themselves.”
Pentsil said he had not done any scouting on the Cougars.
The Cougars are coming off a loss in the North title game but Moreland said the loss may help his squad.
“Losing is supposed to have an effect,” Moreland said. “Our guys, they didn’t like it. They knew that game could have been our game… So hopefully they will learn from it.”
Outside of a potential late-season lesson, the Cougars may have landed a better draw with the loss.
A North title would have matched the Cougars with Palo Verde. The Sunset League champions went a perfect 10-0-0 in the Northwest League and topped last years’ state champion and perennial power, Bishop Gorman, 3-2 in the quarterfinals.
Palo Verde plays Wooster in the other semifinal.
Even with a more favorable draw, the Cougars aren’t getting any historical breaks. A school from the North Region has not won a state title since 2005 when South Tahoe – formerly a 4A (now DI) school and currently a DI-A – brought the hardware north.
With the seal cracked on his state tournament experience, Moreland’s takeaway is unmistakable.
Said Spanish Springs' coach: “Anybody can win.”