A varsity soccer team expected to contend for a section title and state final four is struggling right now to stay alive for the play-offs.
The Willcox Cowboys (5-6-1, 4-3 in power points) were ranked number-11 in a 12-team play-off chase heading into this week and have just four games left.
“We haven’t had as many victories as we thought we would have in this run and we’re picking up the pieces,” said head coach Patrick Macumber.
The struggles started Sept. 25 when they took a 3-1 record against defending section champion Desert Christian and failed to threaten for an upset in a 3-0 loss. D.C. scored in the twelfth minute and turned a 1-0 half-time lead into a comfortable 3-0 advantage by the minute 57 in the 80-minute contest. The Cowboys rarely came close to scoring in the home loss.
They followed with a trip to the Old Pueblo tournament Sept 28-29 in Tucson where the games don’t count toward power points but give a team a chance to compare themselves with competitors from other sections.
Willcox started well with a 6-1 win over St. Johns (2-9) as Ivan Hernandez scored three times and added two assists. Chimo Aguero, Wilbert Velarde and Ariel Rios also scored.
Next up was a fluky 2-2 tie with Show Low (4-7-1). Hernandez spotted Willcox to a 1-0 lead just before the half on a brilliant header from Fernando Ferrell’s centering kick. Show Low’s Cougars answered 14 minutes into the second half with a goal off a corner kick where a Cowboys clearing header caromed off a Cougar’s hip right back into the goal.
Edward Durazo got the Cowboys a 2-1 lead off an assist from Velarde that looked like a game winner in minute 66 of the 70-minute tournament game. But keeper Osvaldo Lopez’ free kick a few minutes later from the top of the box stayed low and hard to the ground, where a Cougar midfielder blocked the ball at the 50-yard line with a foot that somehow directed the moving ball directly back at the goal on a long high arc just beyond the grasp of the retreating Lopez to nestle gently in the goal with less than a minute left to force a 2-2 tie.
The Cowboys had to bounce back the next morning to play defending state champ Blue Ridge, who were also reeling from a 1-0 loss to Desert Christian.
The Yellowjackets (10-1-2) started quickly, scoring in the fifth minute before Hernandez tied it in minute 22 off an assist from Durazo.
Blue Ridge bounced back with a pair of goals before the half ended and added another just seven minutes into the second half for a 4-1 lead. Hernandez made it interesting just two minutes later to score off Durazo’s rebound kick to make it 4-2. There were a couple of late threats to draw closer that failed before the Yellowjackets added an insurance goal in minute 68.
“We had a really good game against Show Low and I thought our guys played really well. We actually played well against Blue Ridge, too, but we had a lot of injuries and came out of that pretty banged up,” said the coach.
They were so banged up that only one starting defender remained for most of the final tournament game later that day against Snowflake (9-2-1) who cruised to a 5-0 win over mostly JV players, scoring four goals in the last 14 minutes.
The Cowboys had to regroup three days later to play at rival Benson last Tuesday and a new problem cropped up. They couldn’t get the ball near the opponent’s net except for a few early opportunities.
They fell behind 2-0 by minute 38 and got a consolation goal when Sergio Pacheco scored off a rebound just before the game ended.
“The Benson game we did not play our best, it was really a pretty ugly game for us. We started the last five minutes looking like ourselves, but prior to that we we’re a little bit all over the place,” said Macumber.
Worse for Willcox, this was a power point counter that dropped their record to 3-3. They did improve to 4-3 last Thursday by getting past mediocre Academy of Tucson (3-7) by a 4-2 score with goals from Hernandez, Aguero, Rios and Velarde.
But firepower was a problem in a non-counter when Lourdes visited on Friday. Hernandez gave Willcox an early 1-0 lead in the seventh minute, but the offense went dormant as Lourdes came back to take a 2-1 lead before the half and cruise to a 4-1 win by the end of the contest.
“Our kids played hard but were just not finishing against Lourdes,” said Macumber.
The Cowboys are also rarely seeing scoring from anyone but Hernandez, who has eight goals in the last seven games, but no else with more than two.
“I think we have several guys who can score, we just need consistency from all the guys. Some of the guys are really good scorers, they just aren’t as consistent as Ivan,” he said.
They’ll be looking for that balance at home on Thursday versus St. Augustine (0-7) and in the rematch Friday against Benson (6-5-1, 5-2-1 pp). That game could have big playoff significance. A win should assure them a top three spot in their section, a spot that may be crucial in assuring a top-12 berth for the post season, which Willcox has never missed in their seven previous soccer seasons.
“I think our team is good enough to be playoff worthy, we just have to start getting goals in the net and we should be able to make it to state,” said Macumber.