Stafford state preview

Jonathan Rincones of Stafford (2) pursues the ball during a Region III-4A quarterfinal playoff match against Houston Scarborough on April 1 at Delmar Stadium in Houston. The Spartans beat Mexia 4-3 last weekend to advance to its first state tournament. (Photo by Landan Kuhlmann)

The Stafford Spartans’ boys’ soccer team and head coach Ruben Perez are soaking up the moment as they prepare for the program’s first trip to the state tournament this week.

But the team also knows there’s still work to do.

“Sometimes you have to kind of step back, look at the bigger picture, and enjoy it,” Perez said. “But at the same time, you can’t get fixated too much with where you’re at in the moment, because you have more that you want to accomplish.”

It has been a historic season so far for the Spartans, who punched their ticket to the Class 4A state tournament with a 4-3 win over Mexia in the Region IV-4A final last Saturday at Legacy Stadium in Katy. 

Stafford (20-5-4), was scheduled to play Boerne (25-2-1) in the Class 4A semifinals at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Birkelbach Field in Georgetown. The winner would play either Stephenville (22-2-1) or Celina (21-3-1) in the final at 2:30 p.m. Friday.

And though it was the program’s fourth trip to the regional tournament in the past six postseasons, Saturday was the first regional title in program history.

“Being able to finally do it is just an unbelievable feeling,” Perez said.

Perez credited much of the team’s success to the leadership of its 15 seniors, many of whom have been in the program for multiple seasons. In particular, he pointed to the play and leadership of captains Justin Zenteno, Aron Maldonado and Octavio Carrera.

“They’ve seen how things need to be done, what makes us perform better… and I think that process has helped them both follow the footsteps of past teams and bring along some of the younger guys,” he said. “It just helps solidify the team aspect of everything, and they’ve made it a point to say this is going to be their year – that’s the way they feel.”

Zenteno is the emotional leader and Carrera the vocal leader, while Maldonado – the team’s leading goal scorer – leads by example according to Perez.

“They all have these different types of leadership that mesh and help pull along the rest of the guys,” he said.

Whatever the reason, the Spartans’ on-field play has been superb all season. Their 20 wins so far this season are the program’s most in more than a decade, and much of it has been on the back of their defense and goalkeeping. Stafford has surrendered just 35 goals in 29 matches, and allowed one or zero goals in 19 of those 29.

In the playoffs, four of their five matches have been decided either by one goal or gone to a shootout. But their overall experience has given them a leg up, according to Perez.

“We’ve had to play and perform in those tighter ballgames, so it’s definitely helpful,” he said.

The Spartans are not satisfied by any means, Perez said. But they also realize that to be among the state’s final four is already a blessing in itself.

“We’re just enjoying the journey,” he said. “….It’s one game at a time and trying to stay within the moment.”

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