A brand new opponent and plenty of excitement has the Flagstaff Eagles boys soccer team ready to go in the Conference 4A semifinals.
The fourth-seeded Eagles will be tested against top-seeded powerhouse Salpointe Catholic, and Eagles head coach Mike Jenkins said he and his team are feeling excited -- and maybe a bit nervous -- heading into Saturday’s match.
“I’m feeling like it's going to be a great honor to play a team like Salpointe,” Jenkins said. “It’s one of those deals where it's an honor to play such a quality team, and we are definitely looking forward to the opportunity.”
Salpointe is going to be the toughest test the Eagles have faced by a long shot this season. The Lancers finished the regular season 9-1-2, with a 5-0 record in the Kino Region. Salpointe’s only blemish on their record to 4A Conference opponents was a tie to Walden Grove. The Lancers played 5A Conference teams well -- going 3-1-1 against some of the top teams in the 5A during the regular season and showing their worth against some of the best.
The Lancers made quick work of their first- and second-round opponents, winning by a combined margin of 13-0 over No. 16 Deer Valley and No. 8 Amphitheater.
Salpointe rolls out a trio of seniors on offense that have led the way for their squad this season. Alfonso Cabrera, Eric Galindo and Francisco Manzo have combined for 36 of the team's 62 goals.
“They’re gonna be good and they are well-coached. It’s a private school, so you’re going to get boys that want to play for that school. So it should be nothing but good, quality players and our boys know that,” Jenkins said. “We’re just trying to stay loose and go out there and give them a show.”
All season the Eagles have leaned heavily on senior Marco Avitia, and it’s safe to guess that he will gain most of the attention of a Lancers defense that has allowed more than two goals to just one team this season.
Jenkins said he has spoke with Avitia about how to handle Salpointe’s pressure, and that he just needs to play within himself and be patient. If he ends up being marked by the Lancers, Jenkins said Avitia will have chances to find his teammates breaking free.
But most importantly, Jenkins said, is for Avitia to just enjoy the challenge.
“Nothing is gonna be easy, especially for him,” Jenkins said. “If they are marking him tight then that will mean someone else could be open and he just needs to play the game, even take it as a compliment that they are marking you so close. Just work hard and enjoy the moment.”
As for the rest of the Eagles, Jenkins said that yes, they are nervous, but it's all a part of the game. He just wants his team to have fun and play loose, not worrying too much about the final score or any expectations.
“They’re nervous but I’ve told them that it's just a game," Jenkins said. "A group of boys from one school and a group of boys from another, so just go out there and have fun.”
Saturday’s game is set for a 3 p.m. start at Williams Field High School in Gilbert. The winner of Flagstaff and Salpointe will go on to face the winner of No. 7 Catalina Foothills and No. 6 Prescott Tuesday in the state championship round.