WEST MESQUITE BOYS SOCCER JESSE VELASQUEZ

Jesse Velasquez and West Mesquite had already secured the 13-5A championship when the season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This spring was supposed to mark the culmination of a three-year process for the West Mesquite boys soccer team.

When head coach Jeremiah Villarreal took over the program during the 2017-2018 school year, he inherited a group of talented sophomores who had their own designs on writing a piece of history.

The group enjoyed some instant success and they steadily built on it from there, leading up to what they hoped would be their signature moment.

Like all teams, the Wranglers will always be left wondering what might have been when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension, and ultimately the cancellation of the season.

Fresh off winning the first district championship in the program’s history a year ago, West Mesquite was well on its way to adding another successful chapter in their pursuit of a goal they set before the season started.

“This is my third year and a lot of those kids I’ve had for all three years, so we were confident and really excited,” Villarreal said. “That first year, we just wanted to make the playoffs and then last year, we said we wanted to win district. This year, I felt we had a really good chance to make the state tournament. We said that as a team out loud and the kids had worked real hard to try to make that happen.”

The Wranglers challenged themselves against a tough non-district schedule that included solid wins over perennial 6A playoff teams such as Sachse, Rowlett and Rockwall.

But the early match that stood out to Villarreal was an impressive 7-1 victory over a good Mesquite team that was later in position to win the 11-6A championship.

“That was the one that impressed me,” he said. “We were playing without the district’s most valuable player from last year (Carlos Lara), who was injured, so I was really impressed with how hard they played and that result, I thought we had a chance to do something special.”

While losing Lara was certainly a blow, the Wranglers had the depth to overcome that and other players stepped up.

That group includes senior Junior Saavedra, who had battled some of his own injury problems last season. He still did enough to earn 13-5A offensive player of the year honors and this year, he added another major award to his resume, as he was voted as the district most valuable player after tallying 17 goals and nine assists.

Saavedra had played several different positions, but it is when he moved to striker that he found his place, as he concluded the last three seasons with 53 goals and 22 assists.

“Once we moved him up and then realized he could handle up front by himself, it allowed us to change our system,” Villarreal said. “There are so many things he can do, but the one thing he really impressed me with this year was his service and his assists … it just added to his game.”

Saavedra was far from the only standout for the Wranglers. Junior Noberto Flores was tabbed as the 13-5A defensive player of the year, senior Jarius Robledo was named defensive midfielder of the year and senior Elliot Mendoza was chosen as the co-newcomer of the year.

Seniors Jesse Velasquez, Josue Murillo, Edgar Lopez and Rodolfo Coronel and junior Jose Estrada were selected to the 13-5A first team and five more West Mesquite players landed on the second team.

The Wranglers were 15-3-5 overall, ranked No. 4 in the Texas Association of Soccer Coaches Class 5A Region 2 poll and had not lost in regulation in 10 district matches as they secured their second straight district championship.

“I feel like we were far more ready for big games,” Villarreal said. “Last year, we were confident, but we weren’t mentally prepared, but this year, we had some successes and they understood how to handle it. I thought we were putting it all together at the right time.”

Preparation for the playoffs came to a sudden halt on Mar. 12 when the University Interscholastic League announced the postponement of the season. There had been discussions on how to best resume the season to provide teams with a chance to finish, but ultimately, when Governor Greg Abbott stated that schools are to remain closed, the UIL had no choice but to follow suit, and on Apr. 17, the 2020 season was over.

It was a bittersweet end for all teams, but especially those like the Wranglers who felt they were on the precipice of history.

“We had high expectations and high aspirations that the boys really believed they could achieve,” Villarreal said. “I’ve learned as much from them as they did from me, but something like this also gives them perspective … there is a lesson to be learned and I think they understand that, but it still doesn’t make it any easier that this is our team, this is our family and these guys put in all the hard work and did everything that was asked and then to not get that chance, it is tough.”

For continued coverage on the local sports scene, follow Devin Hasson on Twitter: @DevinHasson

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