The Western Athletic Conference recognized members of the Dodge City Red Demons boys soccer team Tuesday, awarding the team with multiple selections.
Senior Eddie Del Toro received a WAC First Team selection, and was also recognized as the 2017 WAC Player Of The Year.
“Eddie’s earned it,” Red Demon head coach Saul Hernandez said. “He’s been a workhorse this year. He’s a guy that never quit, and he led by example.”
Of the ways was with his energy. Even when teammates around him didn’t play with great energy, Del Toro did, Hernandez said.
“Eddie just keeps on going,” Hernandez said. “He has so much faith in himself, and he expects the same intensity out of his teammates and he makes everyone around him a better player.”
Seniors Miguel Baca, Francisco Cayetano, Joshua Donjuan and Mario Martinez also took home First Team honors. Seniors Cesar Alvarez and goalkeeper Jesus Herrera eared WAC Honorable Mentions.
Hernandez said he believed most of the team could have been recognized, but admitted he might have been a little bit biased as well.
“When you’re undefeated in the conference, it’s for a reason,” Hernandez said. “It’s not just because of one or two guys, it’s a lot, it’s because of the team and having so many, we had seven selections, just goes to show what type of team we had this year.”
Hernandez was also recognized by the Conference, as WAC Coach Of The Year. He said he does not pay a lot of attention to things like that, in part because he isn’t the only coach responsible for it. He sees awards like that one as more recognition for his coaching staff, even if it’s his name behind it.
“They put in a lot of work and they come up with some good suggestions during the games that have made differences in games that some people might not know of,” Hernandez said. “I put trust in my coaching staff and they have trust in me and that’s why we work well together. So that’s how I look at that award.”
Reflecting on the season
Overall, the Red Demons finished 17-4 this season. Here were some of the memories Hernandez said stuck out to him the most, and a look ahead to next year.
Most Memorable Win
Topeka-Washburn Rural, Oct. 31, 2017, by a score of 3-1.
The team’s victory last week against Washburn Rural was the most memorable of the season, Hernandez said.
“That was probably one of the most physical games that we had been involved in up to that point,” Hernandez said. “That game, the boys were starting to and they played like a team. They played for each other, and you could tell on the field that they were playing for each other and also being the seniors’ last home game at Memorial (Stadium) it also gave it another special touch.”
Last Friday versus Olathe South High School, by a score of 3-2.
This loss ended the Red Demons’ hopes of repeating as state champions, and Hernandez said of the four losses this season, this was the toughest. Dodge City started fast, getting a goal early to take a 1-0 lead.
“Then we had the unfortunate event of Miguel Baca getting injured,” Hernandez said.
Baca was tripped from behind, he said, and was injured around the eighth-minute.
“We lose him for the rest of the weekend, and that was the most important weekend of it all,” Hernandez said. “Even with Baca off the field, we fought. We fought and we fought back (and made it) even, 2-2, and we had our opportunities in the second half. We could have put em away, and then there toward the end we get scored on with two minutes remaining, that kind of deflated us.”
The loss of Baca in the back-line probably caused some of the team to doubt itself, he said. His replacement, Cesar Alvarado, played well and did his best, even though he hadn’t played center-back the whole season, Hernandez said.
“That one was a really tough one to swallow,” Hernandez said. “A lot of ‘what if’s’ in that game.”
Final thoughts on the season
Hernandez said he thinks the team had the talent to make it back to the championship-game this season.
He didn’t know why, but when the team got to 13-0 to start the season, Hernandez said the coaching staff started seeing some complacency in the players.
He wishes the coaches could have seen it sooner, but the staff had never dealt with a winning streak like the one the Red Demons brought into the season, one that eventually totaled 35 games, ending with a 2-1 loss to Saint Thomas Aquinas Oct. 14.
“It was a kind of a new experience for us, but I think it was one that we needed as a coaching staff so we know what to expect with the future classes,” Hernandez said. “I go to youth-league games here in Dodge (City) and there’s talent for years and years to come, so this gave us good experience for how to handle those situations.”
Looking ahead to next year
This year’s team was composed mostly of seniors, but younger players did get playing-time, both during the regular season and in the playoffs. Freshmen Alan Lopez and Erik Martinez gained extensive experience this year.
Freshman goalkeeper Christopher Velez also saw action and could fill the net with senior goalkeeper Jesus Herrera graduating.
“We’re gonna have another talented group,” Hernandez said. “Most of em are freshmen that were playing in JV. We had three freshmen that were playing in varsity, and we expect those three to be kind of leaders for next year.”
After the team lost to Olathe South, Dodge City took on Manhattan in the third-place game on Saturday. During that game, Hernandez said he opted to give the younger players a lot of experience.
Herrera, for instance, only played about the first 25 minutes. Velez came in after that, Hernandez said, and allowed three goals, though two of those weren’t his fault, the other of which he probably “could have cleaned up a little bit nicer.”
“It gives him that in-game experience at the top level, and I think it’ll get those boys hungry,” Hernandez said. “They know what kind of level physically, technically, tactically they have to be in. They know they still have to work and (I) hope they got a little taste of what that success tastes like so they can come back hungrier.”