Flagstaff Eagles boys soccer head coach Mike Jenkins knows that border towns almost always boast tough clubs.
Looking for their first trip to the semifinals since 2011, the Eagles host the Douglas Bulldogs today in a meeting of the 4A Conference's fourth and fifth seeds. Jenkins thinks the outcome of the state tournament game could come down to which team can limit mistakes.
“I think that we will play our game, we will play our style of game as much as possible, but we will make adjustments based off what they are giving up. I feel like any time you are playing a team, especially any time it is a team from close to the border, that they will be good and play clean soccer and be well organized," Jenkins said.
A year ago in a play-in match, Flagstaff (12-1) made the long trip to Nogales only to fall 8-1. Home has been good so far for the Eagles, who appear to have hit their stride in time for the postseason. Flagstaff played from behind in the opening round of the championship bracket and used a flurry of attacks to advance over Canyon Del Oro, 2-1, at Flagstaff High School on Saturday.
Saturday's win marked the first time since 2011 the Eagles made it out of the first round. Flagstaff's upperclassmen stepped up to make it happen, with senior Marco Avitia scoring the game-winning goal over Canyon Del Oro despite the opponent's effort to shut down the Eagles' No. 1 attacker.
Flagstaff, riding the confidence of a five-game winning streak, has scored two or more goals in six of its last eight games, and in one of the two where the team fell short, it was without Avitia. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have recorded a 26-7 goal differential against all opponents this season and have only allowed two goals in the last nine outings.
"It's good to have gone through that last game and we've been in some close ones, games now we've been behind in," Jenkins said. "We've been in different situations, so we know everything's going to be fine."
Jenkins said in the first round his team displayed the patience and confidence it takes to win playoff games.
"I think there is that part of them that they feel if they don't score in the first minutes that things won't go their way," Jenkins said of his team. "But it was a one-to-nothing game and we still got a win. We started to play with a different mentality; you have to let the game come to you."
Juniors such as Trenton Campbell, who had the assist for Avitia Saturday, and Alex Grieder, who scored Flagstaff's first goal against Canyon Del Oro, will have to keep finding new levels of their game to help their team fend off a Douglas team that went 8-1-2 in the regular season and won the Gila Region with a 4-0 mark.
"It's a state quarterfinal game, they will be ready," Jenkins said of what he expects from Douglas. "They'll be ready to go because everyone is hungry now to get a win."
Douglas beat No. 12-seeded Glendale, 2-0, on Saturday to advance.
Flagstaff's Avitia was named the Grand Canyon Region's offensive player of the year in addition to making the first team, which fellow senior Sebastian Soto Duarte landed on.
Also for Flagstaff, Campbell, Hayden Lucas and Mark Cardenas were named to the second team, with Emmnauel De Niz and Guillermo Soto garnering honorable mentions.
In order to limit mistakes, Jenkins said, his players will have to be vocal and play in sync as they often do.
"Everyone has to be communicating and we can't try to do too much," the longtime Eagles head coach said. "I tell the kids to let the ball do the work, and if you do that then good things will happen."
Today's game is set for a 3 p.m. kickoff at Flagstaff High School.
With the chance of snow in the midweek, Flagstaff moved the girls soccer state quarterfinal game between the No. 4 Eagles and the No. 5 Catalina Foothills Falcons from Wednesday to today.
The game will take place at 5:30 p.m. at Coconino High School.
Flagstaff (11-1-1) edged Estrella Foothills on Saturday at home, 1-0, to advance. Meanwhile, the Falcons (11-2) have been rolling on a nine-game win streak during which the team scored four or more goals in six of the matches.