PHARR — The road to Georgetown’s Birkelbach Field for the UIL State Soccer Tournament is seldom easy. It takes five wins in arguably the state’s toughest region, which encompasses the Rio Grande Valley, Coastal Bend and the Austin/San Antonio metro areas.
For Valley View boys’ soccer, the route to a back-to-back state berth was filled with potholes, obstacles and elite opposition.
The Tigers are back to the state semifinals for the fourth time in program history, looking to capture their first state championship.
Valley View will start its quest for two wins in central Texas against El Paso Bel Air at 5 p.m. Thursday.
“Just to be here again, being qualified for the state tournament in Georgetown, it’s just an amazing feeling,” junior Jorge Amaya said. “We’ve been working hard since summer, going to cross country and so far in the ninth period since the early months we’ve been training really hard.”
A large portion of the Tigers’ roster was on the team last season where they reached the same stage, but fell 3-1 to Frisco Wakeland, which went on to win its second straight title.
This time around, head coach Damien Magallen says his group is prepared to use the 2018 season as a learning lesson.
“The kids are more excited, more motivated to win because last year they lost by a small margin,” Valley View coach Damian Magallen said. “We were there already, we gained a lot of experience. We don’t need to be committing the same mistakes again. We need to be very focused on what we need to work on so that we can win the championship.”
Amaya, who wears the coveted No. 10 for his team, has been competing all school year. Cross country was just the start.
Even though futbol reigns supreme in the border community, Amaya was also the placekicker for Valley View’s ‘futbol Americano’ team. The Tigers on the gridiron had its best season in program history, starting with a six-game winning streak that took them to their first postseason.
Goalkeeper Diego Cuellar served as the team’s fullback in the fall.
A junior midfielder, Amaya described football as another opportunity to keep his body in shape but he said being part of history once already this year was special.
“For football, it was just an amazing feeling, a privilege to be a part of that team,” Amaya said. “It was a little bit difficult to adapt because it’s not a sport I used to play. The environment there, the atmosphere was just amazing. Now, it’s soccer season and this is what I love to do, with my friends, with my teammates.”
Reaching the state tournament for a chance to make history on the pitch took dramatic wins in the postseason. Against Sharyland High in the third round, the Tigers trailed twice before tying the game late in regulation. After scoring first in extra time, Valley View needed PKs to get by the 31-5A champions.
The Tigers are known for playing at a breakneck pace. Amaya, however, specializes in controlling the ball and making sure the structure remains. He took matters into his own hands in the area round when he scored the team’s only goal in a 1-0 overtime win against Laredo Martin.
“I think it’s a quality I have, an ability,” Amaya said. “I know that my team is really offensive who likes to play the ball on the ground really fast. I’m one of those players that whenever we have to calm ourselves, keep ourselves on the ground with 1 or 2 passes, that’s what I do.”
Mario De Los Santos, who was named last season’s the Monitor Player of the Year, has rejoined the group after being cleared by the UIL with a fifth-year waiver due to hardship.
He scored 70 goals in 2018 and his fresh legs were on display at the regional tournament over the weekend. For a second straight season, he scored a hat trick in a match against Brownsville Veterans to advance to state.
When De Los Santos was out, newcomer Yonathan Castro and returner Christopher Flores picked up the slack in his place. Now, the Tigers are at full strength.
“We’re very happy we won the regional game, but we’re still working to win the state championship,” De Los Santos who exploded for six goals at the regional tournament in Corpus Christi said. “I am just humble to work every day. It’s not just me, it’s my team helping me get those goals. I never lost faith in God I’d be able to play in high school again.”
If the Tigers can get by El Paso Bel Air they have potential to set up a rematch with the two-time defending state champions. Wakeland faces Houston Sharpstown in the second state semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
“It’s just hunger,” Amaya said. “It’s an opportunity at redemption. We have that little regret we couldn’t achieve what we wanted last year but this year hopefully we can make it. We’re really eager, really hungry for us to achieve our goal.”