When Nooksack Valley boys’ soccer coach Valentin Villalobos was asked what it’s like to have 12 seniors on his team’s roster, he quickly replied.
“Scary,” he laughed.
He went on to describe how nice is it is to have so much leadership and chemistry on the field each day, but he still wonders what next season holds.
And it’s fair to ask what’s going to happen to the Pioneers when they lose more than half their team that plays most of the minutes. Nooksack has gone just 27-87-4 in its past seven seasons.
But this year’s squad is special, and it just may have staying power — in more ways than one.
Making a name
The Pioneers have cruised through the first half of the season, compiling a 9-2-1 record and have impressed opponents with their athleticism, organization and talent.
The senior class which includes star forwards such as leading goalscorer Luke VanWingerden and David Flores along with defenders Kyle Macy, Will Kingma and goalkeeper Levi VanWingerden. Midfielders Luis Garcia and Brent Berends join that group and are not short on talent. Rounding out the senior class is backup goalie Tyson Thorpe, midfielder Chris Baltazar and defenders Omar Lopez, Alex Miranada and Leo Valesquez.
Nooksack Valley has topped big-name schools such as Burlington-Edison and Sehome in convincing fashion.
“For me, for three years now, how we played has been disappointing. Other people would say, ‘Oh Nooksack, that’s an easy win,’” Luke VanWingerden said. “This year, they know we’re better, but it gives us an edge, because they don’t expect us to win and play hard.”
Opponents weren’t the only ones to doubt the Pioneers, though, as Flores put it, “even our own school didn’t think we were going to be good.”
“It’s going to be good to prove all those guys wrong,” Flores said.
After the impressive start for Nooksack Valley, the school and community has taken notice. Fans now line the sidelines at home games, potential players are interested in trying out next season and students are talking about the team in the hallways.
This all should ease Villalobos’ worries about next year. Success tends to breed success, and the Pioneers are set for plenty of positive results this season.
“I would run into some kids and I encourage them to play. Some would say ‘We don’t want to play; we don’t want to do this; Nooksack never wins,’” Villalobos said, “and this is changing the entire thing. ... A lot of kids are coming up to me and say they want to play next year because they see what Nooksack is capable of doing and they want to be a part of it.”
Don’t talk about it yet
Nooksack Valley has never made the state tournament. The 2015 team has a chance to change that — just don’t tell them that.
“We want to take it step by step first. We don’t want to go, ‘Oh we’re going to make it to state’ and at the end we don’t make it,” Villalobos said. “I don’t let it get in their head right now, because ... if we don’t make it that hurts for them.”
Still, the players know what a state tournament would mean — a spot in history. No program wants to see a zero next to state title appearances.
“It means the world to us — the school,” Macy said. “Everyone knows we’re playing good now, and it’d be awesome.”
The players understand it’s going to take the same mindset that’s got them this far — work hard, work for each other and don’t overlook anybody, Flores, Macy and VanWingerden all said.
Key to 2015 success
While the Pioneers are trying to etch their names in the record books, there’s one big reason for their performance this season.
Few teams ever get the opportunity to have 12 seniors on the roster — let alone a class that’s been together for seven years now headed by the same coach.
Villalobos coached most of the seniors in recreational leagues in middle school before taking over the high school team once this senior class arrived.
“I was very proud and happy to do it, because I knew what I had,” Villalobos said. “Those kids, they knew me. I knew them. They were happy with me, and I knew I could work with them. I’m very proud of them and everything they’ve done since the first year I started coaching them. They’ve been very, very committed to their teams.”
That chemistry and rapport the senior class has built over the years has shown on the field, and it makes the game a whole lot simpler.
“We know each other like the back of our hand,” VanWingerden said. “It’s just easy because you can pass it around and you don’t have to look and you know where the ball is going.”
The team is full of leaders, as Flores pointed out, but everyone also understands their role.
“It’s just amazing having those guys out there keeping your head up,” Flores said.
Leading that charge is four-year captain Kingma, who anchors the back line, encouraging players no matter how far ahead or behind the Pioneers are.
“Out of all of our seniors, I think he’s the one that stands out,” Villalobos said. “He’s always on the field, always talking to the guys, encouraging the guys, pushing the guys. If you see him, he will never stop.”
With Kingma pushing the Pioneers and 11 other seniors not wanting to diminish what has been a spectacular season so far, Nooksack Valley is one of the most dangerous programs in the Northwest Conference.
It just took seven difficult seasons to get there.