San Luis making run to 6A soccer title amid heavyweights
A 30-foot wall separates San Luis from Mexico in the southwest corner of Arizona.
Not far from there, a group of kids are celebrating every step on the field and are grateful to have played soccer in high school, where every game feels like another step towards a dream.
The San Luis High School boys ‘soccer team tops the Republic of Arizona Super 10 boys’ soccer rankings for the second consecutive year with a goal of achieving the 6A title. They are followed by perennial power Brophy Prep in 2nd place, Queen Creek Casteel, Tempe and Tucson Salpointe Catholic.
If a championship takes place in mid-March, the border town with around 33,000 inhabitants will likely have a large rally to celebrate.
There is a lot of activity in the community as coach Jesus Rojas leads the Sidewinders to a 6-0 record with 21 players on the team.
Rojas said that most of the children lived in San Luis for most of their lives, and many spent the weekends with families in Mexico.
“They just see this as any other place they can visit, except that they usually have to stand in line for three to four hours if they want to go back to the US,” Rojas said. “In terms of the game, I think they enjoy the freedom as they have multiple places to play the sport.”
Team members are used to playing across the border as well as other areas of Arizona when it’s not college season.
“From March to November there are a lot of players with teams in Mexico, San Luis, Yuma and even Phoenix. Playing three to five games a week doesn’t seem like anything to them because they are playing the game they love.”
However, with COVID-19, it was a challenging year. There were a third that many players trying the out for the team. Two players have dealt with the loss of a family member during the season, both unrelated to COVID-19.
“It’s been a very unique season for everyone,” said Rojas. “During the test drives we usually have almost 100 athletes for our three teams. This year we had just enough players to form two teams with virtually no cuts.”
Fortunately, for Rojas, San Luis gave back eight players from last year’s side who went 10-5-1 and made it to the playoffs, only to lose 3-2 to the Phoenix Alhambra.
“The biggest challenge, like most teams, is keeping everyone healthy,” said Rojas. “It’s not just injuries to worry about this season and that (COVID) brings an additional problem.”
The winter sports in winter – soccer, basketball and wrestling – were initially canceled by the Arizona Interscholastic Association in January as COVID-19 metrics rose sharply. The AIA board reversed the move and agreed to start a belated season with additional security protocols. This includes masks that are needed by athletes during competition.
“I think the kids knew we were a very strong team and they were able to channel the disappointment they felt when the season was canceled.
Rojas said the team knew it was going to be strong this season. The players were initially disappointed when the AIA voted to cancel the season and did not forget that feeling once the game started, he added.
“I think it opened their eyes to the idea of playing every game like it was the last game they’ll play,” he said.
This is the school’s first 6-0 start since 2012.
Young striker Roberto Uribe leads the team with five goals. After that nobody has more than three goals. Three players scored three goals and three others scored two goals each.
The Sidewinders’ opponent, Yuma, only played one game on Thursday due to the pandemic. San Luis is part of the Yuma Union High School District.
In their last game, a 6-3 win over Yuma Kofa on February 4th, San Luis led 2-0 in the first five minutes, but 3-3 in the 16th minute.
“I think overconsciousness was a big part of that and that is one of the challenges we have been dealing with,” said Rojas. “The kids know we haven’t won anything and while it’s a good start, it’s just a start.”
Rojas said the mental toughness of the players was the key to the strong start.
“Like millions around the world, our players lost many loved ones over the past year, but that made the team even more united,” he said. “They support each other and are always there to help.”
Contact Obert at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-316-8827 for ideas for stories of human interest and other news. Follow him on Twitter @azc_obert.
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