Led by sophomore Irving Garcia, San Luis ready to host 4A state playoff match today
Not many anticipated the San Luis boys soccer team, in its third year as a program and its first on the varsity level, slithering to the 4A Skyline Region title and a playoff berth this season.
But sophomore Irving Garcia, perhaps the biggest reason for San Luis' success, isn't surprised.
"I expected to do well," he said. "We started off playing well, and we kept getting better. We've got a great team. I think we can win state."
Garcia and the young Sidewinders (14-3-2) will take their first step toward a state championship at 6 p.m. tonight, when they host Pinnacle in a second-round state playoff matchup.
Coach Tim Conroy was quick to credit several players for San Luis' success. He noted the contributions of juniors Fernando Rodriguez, a midfielder, and defender Ivest Samayoa, who were region first-team selections, and forward Abdel Becerra and midfielder Omar Heredia, both sophomores and second-team selections. Becerra is second on San Luis in goals scored, while Rodriguez and Heredia are the assist leaders.
Yet Conroy added that Garcia, who finished second in the Skyline Player of the Year voting to Phoenix-Washington's Angel Avila, stood out above the rest.
"He's got great passion and loves the game," Conroy said. "He gives his all."
Garcia, whom Conroy watched in grade school and knew would be special, hasn't taken long to fulfill his potential. As a freshman, he started every one of San Luis' 12 games and excelled.
This season, the 5-foot-4, 120-pounder has taken his play to a greater echelon. Playing forward but often freelancing in the middle of the field like a halfback, Garcia scored 12 goals in region games and has a team-leading 22 overall. He does a better job now of surveying the field and avoiding offsides calls. He can use either foot to shoot or pass, and never seems to tire.
"I don't like to stand still," he explained. "When I rush to the goal, I like to get speed from midfield. If guys try to muscle me, I can defend myself. I'll make a move and get around them."
His boundless energy and effectiveness has surprised even Conroy.
"He's been all over the field," Conroy said. "He's usually up top at forward, but he's everywhere in the middle, too ... I was concerned about his size (and being able to take the punishment), but he doesn't seem to be."
Part of Garcia's success must be attributed to his teammates, who give him the opportunity to excel. He's developed a chemistry with Heredia in particular, whom he's played with for the last nine years.
"Omar and I know each other pretty well and work together," Garcia said. "The rest of the team sets me up, too. Our defense doesn't let people get past them. Our midfielders give good passes."
Garcia struggled to pinpoint how he plays with such abandon. But answering why he does was much easier.
"You've got to have fun and enjoy the game," Garcia said. "If you don't, you feel the pressure, get tense and don't play well."
Garcia, who turns 16 on Wednesday, still has farther to go to refine his game. He'd like to increase his speed, get stronger in using his off (left) foot, and get better at using his head for shots.
For now, however, helping San Luis to a playoff win - or two, or three, or four -are high on his birthday present list.
If his attitude and play carry over to the playoffs, the Sidewinders' chances look very good.
Nick Taylor can be reached at email@example.com or at 782-6520.