One of those almost-cliche phrases you hear from basketball commentators nowadays is that “a team needs to lose before it can learn to win.”

As high school basketball season nears, it’s a phrase I find oddly applicable to this season for the Dodge City Red Demons boys soccer team.

I say oddly because this team under fourth-year head coach Saul Hernandez won before they necessarily had to lose. Let’s be clear, they were good before he got there. They had qualified for the 6A State Tournament eight of the past 11 seasons as a program, according to stats provided by Dodge City High School Athletics Director Jay Gifford.

Under Hernandez, however, this team has continued to win, and that itself isn’t easy, as anyone who has watched sports for more than a few years could attest.

Yet in that Hernandez has succeeded. The Red Demons finished third in State in his first season, won the State Championship in 2016, then finished fourth in 2017.

And while 2018 will almost certainly feel like a letdown to the Dodge City fans that have become used to playing on the final Saturday of the season, perhaps the more realistic ones will see it more the way that I do:

This team got as far as it did way ahead of schedule.

There were obvious chinks in the Red Demons’ armor entering this season. You could count on a single hand how many starters this team returned from the previous year, and chemistry was a constant work in progress.

Other issues made themselves clear as the season played out, like the way the team could generate plenty of shots in a game but at times struggled to put them in the net.

If ever the team was primed for a “down year,” this was it. Maybe that’s how this year’s 16-3 finish in the State Quarterfinals will feel to those fans who have gotten used to Dodge City contending on the final weekend as if on the strength of the team’s name alone.

I prefer to take either a more optimistic or realistic view.

This team will lose seniors in defensemen Andy Sanchez, Oscar Garcia and Oliver Alba, and will lose some key offensive players in Alexis Calderon, Alexis Alvarez, Josue Castillo and Jovanny Sanchez.

But this team’s experience won’t be lost to graduation.

Goalkeepers Carlos Sanchez and Daniel Ruiz were both underclassmen. Multiple defensemen were juniors, such as Jorge Rosales, Nahum Chavira and Laurenze Hennecke. So were Diego Olivares, Carlos Rodriguez and Marco Raue, the latter of which proved vital in the team’s early playoff games this season.

Sophomore-wise, it gets even better. Besides Carlos Sanchez, the team’s sophomores included both Alan Lopez and Erubiel Duron, who had key goals throughout the playoffs, as well as Erik Martinez, Mario Del Real and Daniel Rojas.

This team could return a lot of potential and, maybe even more importantly, a lot of experience.

Red Demons fans can feel good about that even if the season’s ending still burns.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those purely of the individual writing them, and do not in any way constitute an official stance or opinion of either Gatehouse Media, or the Dodge City Daily Globe. To contact the writer, email sburch@dodgeglobe.com.