The return of several club players to the Desert Vista boys soccer program just might have them wondering what might have been if they had never left.
The Thunder advanced, as did the girls team, to the Division I semifinals with a 3-0 win over No. 6 Gilbert on Saturday. One more win — against No. 10 San Luis at Campo Verde at 5 p.m. on Thursday — is all it takes to get Desert Vista back to the state finals for the first time since 2008 and fifth overall.
The Thunder’s depth and talent reached a different level this year when five players who played for the Thunder varsity as freshmen decided to concentrate on club ball and put the Thunder jerseys away for a few year or two before rejoining for their senior seasons.
Now they — Josh Greene (SC Del Sol), Conner Leisy (SC Del Sol), Danny Gavin (RSL Academy), Tyler Angell (Sereno) and Mac Paquette (SC Del Sol) — are all back and Desert Vista might be in line for a very special year.
“It’s nice to see them back and having a great time,” Thunder coach Mike Rabasca said. “They had a great club experience, not to take anything away from that, but I think in some small way they are realizing what Desert Vista soccer is about and they love it.
“They are growing with it. It is nice to watch them remember and embrace what it is to be a Desert Vista soccer player.”
They are hardly the only reasons for the Thunder’s success this season as Desert Vista (17-4) has seen Nicholas Mangialardi, who has five goals in the postseason; Tate Schmitt; captain Chris Byrd; and goalie Timothy O’Brien among others being major contributors.
Add it all together and the Thunder just might be progressing toward its fourth state title, matching the 2002, 2005 and 2006 squads.
“We are playing OK,” said Rabasca, who has been with the program since its inception in 1998. “It’s tough to tell because of who we are playing (in Gilbert, which plays more of a direct physical style than technical). It is what it is.”
San Luis is a bit of an unknown because its schedule never ventures far from Yuma and included Kofa, Gila Ridge and two California schools near the border to go 11-2 in regular season games.
As the 10th seed San Luis knocked off No. 7 Carl Hayden and No. 2 Corona del Sol to get to the semifinal matchup with the Thunder.
“We prepped our butts off and it showed,” San Luis coach Ian MacDougall told the Yuma Sun. “We were ready for what they brought.”
The Thunder girls, seeded second, didn’t bring their best in the quarterfinals, but managed to beat Kofa 1-0 on Saturday to advance to Wednesday’s Division I semifinals against No. 3 Highland with a 5 p.m. start at Campo Verde.
The effort was there, the execution was a bit off and Desert Vista coach Marvin Hypolite was at a loss for words afterward, but in reality it doesn’t matter in the one-and-done playoff format.
“Speechless,” Hypolite said. “But at the end of the day it was a win.”
Desert Vista’s lone goal came at about the 20-minute mark of the first half on freshman Tatum Heeres’ 14th goal of the season.
“She’s been very good for us and she’s just a freshman,” Hypolite said. “I hadn’t really seen her before but she has done some good things.”
The matchup against Highland (21-2-2) is a rematch of the finals of the Tempe Diablos Classic in December when the Thunder won 2-1.
In order to make its first finals since 2009 and fifth overall, the Thunder will have to do much better than they did against Kofa,
“We have to come out harder because we can’t play like this against the better teams,” senior midfielder Kelly Watson said.
Then again, at this point in the year, a win is a win.
“You are not going to have a pretty win all of the time,” Hypolite said. “I’m more excited about the win than the style of play.”
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.