Three straight years of frustration have been forgotten. Sparks has broken through.
After falling in the state semifinals three consecutive seasons, Sparks advanced out of the semis on Friday evening at Cimarron-Memorial Park in Las Vegas, then finished off a state championship Saturday morning.
The Railroaders (25-2-1) blanked 3A South champ, Western, 2-0, for their first state title since 2011.
“I can’t describe it,” Sparks coach Jose Espana said. “Point blank, I can’t describe it. It’s just been a lot of battling and making sure the team was solid. I feel like we did a really good job today.”
It was a couple unlikely players who came through in the 4-1 semifinal win over Chaparral. In the state title game, it was Sparks’ two leading scorers who found the net.
In the first half, Jesus Partida had a penalty kick blocked, but he rebounded the deflection and finished to put the Railroaders up 1-0 over the Warriors (17-7-2).
In the 53rd minute in the second half, Genaro Vazquez provided an insurance goal with an assist from Partida.
Espana said his team remained aggressive with the 2-0 lead until the referee blew triple whistles and the celebration was on.
“Just happiness. A lot of emotion,” Espana said of the immediate reaction to the state title. “This group, again, we’ve been here the last three years and haven’t been able to break through. The year of breaking curses continues. We’ve never won all three things (league title, regional title, state title) … This is a goal we always set for ourselves and we’ve never gotten there.”
With three straight regional titles and six straight state tournament berths, Sparks has grown into a perennial 3A contender. However, Espana got the idea this team was different after a narrow 3-2 win over Incline its first game of the 3A North tournament.
Backup keeper Marvin Monreal had to come on late in the second half and made a tie-preserving save with five minutes in regulation before the Railroaders scored the game winner in stoppage time.
The victory epitomized Espana’s message: Everybody must play their part.
“Just the reliance we showed against Incline,” Sparks’ coach said. “It went to show that any moment, anybody needed to step up. I go back to Marvin, in that save. That could’ve been it. That could’ve been the end of it. And yet he stepped up in the moment when the team needed him, and look where we’re at now.”
Espana was Sparks’ JV coach in 2011 when the Railroaders won their last state title. This year was his first as the head varsity coach, after taking over for longtime coach Frank Avilla, who stepped down in the offseason.
“It’s bittersweet,” Espana said. “Frank has been my mentor. He coached me. It’s just one of those things where it’s bittersweet, but I thank him for all the lessons he’s taught me.
“I felt like I was a part of it (in 2011), but when you’re the one in charge, or you’re the assistant coach that’s been with the team all season, that’s something else.”
The 2016 Sparks Railroaders were certainly something else. And because of it, they’re state champions.