PREP SOCCER: Nevada Union’s remarkable run comes to a close
Nevada Union boys soccer coach Chrys Dudek knew he had a talented and capable group early on.
“They just have a good time playing together and I think that’s something that will take us a long way,” Dudek said in December when the Miners were just a few games into the season.
Their chemistry as a team and skill on the pitch did indeed take them far. The Miners not only posted their best record since 2011, they also earned the program’s first playoff win in more than a decade.
“I talked about it at the beginning of the season, if there is a team that is going to start a legacy here, it’s this group,” said Dudek.
The Miners (7-7-4) landed the No. 16 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section’s Division III bracket and went on to beat No. 17 Rosemont, 3-1, in the first round Monday at Hooper Stadium thanks to a strong defensive effort as a team and a hat trick from senior Josh Smith.
“It’s amazing. We’re making history. It’s great,” said NU’s senior goalie Steven Person after the playoff win.
The Miners’ banner season came to a close Tuesday, though, when they fell, 4-0, on the road to No. 1 seed Galt.
“What they’ve accomplished … winning a home playoff game, is an amazing thing,” said Dudek. We’re proud of it and they’re proud of it.”
The Miners opened the 2019-20 season strong, going 3-0-2 in their first five matches. Their first loss of the season didn’t come until the Inderkum Tournament finals when they came up short, 2-0, against a potent Pittsburg squad.
Things got much tougher for Nevada Union when Foothill Valley League play kicked off. NU went 1-5-2 through the first eight games of league play. The Miners regained their stride in the final week of the season, topping FVL foes Lincoln, 2-0, and Rio Linda, 3-2, to finish 3-5-2 in league play, good enough for fourth place and the final automatic playoff spot allotted to the FVL.
“The difference has been our attitude,” senior Josh Smith said after the Miners’ win over Rio Linda last Thursday. “We’ve been better about fighting throughout the whole game and keeping it 100 the whole game.”
The Chico State bound Smith was a big reason for the Miners’ success down the stretch, scoring seven goals in the team’s final four games, including the hat trick in the Miners’ playoff win over Rosemont. Smith finished with a team-best 15 goals this season, according to MaxPreps.com.
“He creates some Miner Magic,” Dudek said of Smith. “He can move the ball well, he’s got his angles, he can put a great shot on from just about anywhere. He works well through people, he connects well with people, he’s had some good assists from teammates, and sometimes like (Monday night) he just rolls through them… He’s equally dangerous with both his left and right when it comes to offense.”
Smith was quick to credit his teammates for his recent success.
“A lot of it is my teammates moving and drawing their players out of space and me seeing that space and running to it. And, usually I get a ball that puts me on goal and I can finish it,” he said.
Nevada Union’s Bryce Nguyen, Moises Tovar, Kiyo Yonenaka, Bryce Dahlstrom, Jake Slade and Isaiah O’Connell all contributed offensively throughout the season.
Defensively, the Miners were anchored all season by senior goalie Steven Person, a vocal leader and team captain.
Person showcased his talent in the playoff contest with Galt, making 19 saves in the first half to keep the Miners in the game. He would finish with 26 in the match.
NU’s defense played a major factor in their strong finish to the season. Defenders J.J. Balkowitsch, Nino Conte, Jaden Butcher-Cummings, Christian Clark, Rhys Gallagher, and Tucker Goodspeed all played roles in the improved defensive effort.
Before this season, the Miners had made the playoffs just twice dating back to 2004, both of which were short stays. They lost in the first round of the 2011 D-II playoffs to eventual champ Bella Vista, and had a first round exit from the 2013 D-I playoffs after falling to Jesuit.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email email@example.com.
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