STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
MARBLE FALLS — A 6-0 loss to Pharr Valley View in a Class 5A Region IV semifinal April 13 doesn’t diminish the success of the Marble Falls High School boys soccer team’s 2018 season.
Or, its march to history.
The Mustangs (17-10-1) are the first soccer team in school history to reach a regional tournament and set a record for the most playoff wins in a season with three.
“I think it’s my most talented team since I’ve been here that we’ve been able to field as well as the most accomplished as far as trophies,” head coach Rick Hoover said.
This team finished third in District 26-5A with a 9-5 record. In 2017, the Mustangs were 18-2-6 overall and 8-1-5 in district, finishing second and losing in the second round of the playoffs.
The seniors — goalkeeper Edgar Najera, defenders Josh Hernandez, Erick Estrada, and Nick Veloz, forwards Jose Jimenez, Victor Lazo, and Cristian Santibanez, and midfielders Christian Ammons, Rudy Guevara, Fortino Tinajera, Cristian Ramirez, and Faustino Dominguez — were the first group to have started with Hoover as eighth-graders.
“These kids have been with me for a long time; they knew the system,” he said. “I understand them. I put them in the best situation to be successful.”
The Mustangs had a core group of athletes who had been playing together since they were 7 years old. They have logged heavy minutes on the field and made playing look easy. They include Ammons, Dominguez, Guevara, Tinajera, and Santibanez.
“This is the first time we’ve had a group like this in soccer that I know of,” Hoover said. “It’s the first time I’ve known a group this long with the chemistry and dynamics built so thoroughly. They can communicate and play together that looks effortless. … Everybody has a different personality, but that makes it a fun group to be around. There was never a dull moment. They are crazy fun when they play. They had fun; you could see it.”
The Mustangs had the most fun in the playoffs when they knocked out district foe Dripping Springs 5-2 on April 6.
Though Dripping Springs scored first off a 70-yard bomb, Marble Falls struck right back 2½ minutes later when Tinajera scored on a corner kick to tie the contest 1-1.
Marble Falls junior forward Isek Munoz broke the tie when he found the right corner of the net with 4:20 left in the half for a 2-1 lead the Mustangs never relinquished.
During that game, the players illustrated exactly what their coach talked about: They took advantage of their scoring opportunities, celebrated with each other, picked one another up, and never looked rattled.
Those characteristics are why Hoover enjoyed being around this team.
At the regional tournament, the Mustangs trailed Valley View 4-0 at the half but had their chances to score; they just couldn’t find the back of the net. Valley View was ranked No. 13 nationally by TopDrawerSoccer.com and 39th nationally and No. 2 in the state by MaxPreps.com.
“Once (Valley View) got a couple of goals, the momentum got away from us,” Hoover said. “Even if we would’ve scored those goals, the momentum would’ve been the same most likely, but it would’ve been closer.”
The coach didn’t mince words when asked if the Tigers were the best opponent the Mustangs have faced this season.
“That’s the best team I’ve ever seen,” he said. “At every position, they had big, strong athletes who were skilled. They looked like football players with soccer skills. They were huge. They had six kids who were right at 6 feet tall. That combination is tough to compete with — the physicality with the skill.”
Hoover was so impressed with Valley View that he truly believes had Marble Falls been in a different region, the Mustangs would have qualified for the state tournament.
“Valley View is on a whole other level,” he said. “That team is incredibly talented.”
Hoover already has been compiling a list of offseason program tasks, including more time in the weight room, adding that’s going to be staple for the entire athletics department.
“We’re still building, still changing the dynamics,” he said. “I would like to have had them in the weight room more. That will definitely be in our favor if we’d been able to do that.”