A year ago, the Cooper soccer team was ready to make their seventh straight trip to the playoffs to end the season abruptly due to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.
It was a big blow to the Cougars, who had a high-ranking team.
“It was honestly heartbreaking,” said Trey Castillo, a junior on last year’s team. “I knew my entire team wanted to leave. I was confident that if we went to this playoff game we would be fine. “
Despite the return of just five players, Cooper has beaten his ticket to a return trip to the playoffs. And this time the Coogs have the opportunity to play in the postseason.
Cooper (11-8-4), the third-placed team from District 4-5A, will play runner-up Amarillo Palo Duro in a two-district playoff game of Region I-5A in Lubbock-Cooper on Friday at 5:00 p.m. from District 3-5A in Woodrow.
“It was very devastating not to go to the playoffs last year because of COVID,” said Cooper goalkeeper David Damian. “But making it to the playoffs this year was a real achievement as a team. We lost a lot of seniors last year so we had a new team this year. “
It wasn’t just football that closed around this time last year because of the virus. All spring sports came to a halt and it taught people like Damian and Castillo how quickly they can be taken away – regardless of success on the field.
“It is definitely a blessing to be able to play this game in my senior year,” said Castillo, a midfielder. “I know the guys are excited and ready to come out and do our best to give everything.”
Damian, a junior and three year old starter at the gate, repeated these feelings.
“Yes, I’ll play for my team-mates who couldn’t leave last year,” said Damian. “I know a lot of them were devastated and couldn’t play last year.”
Promotion in the year of reconstruction
It’s not just the players who are grateful for the chance to play in the postseason.
Cooper coach Lalo Munoz is enjoying the moment too – especially considering how inexperienced this team was at the beginning of the year.
“We had a lot of obstacles to overcome this year,” said Munoz. “We lost a lot of seniors last year and basically went through the district with just 12 players. Doing that with 12 players and not just making the playoffs but finishing third in the district says a lot about what the boys have achieved this year. The work they do has paid off for them. Hopefully we can do something special on this first lap. “
Cooper made the postseason despite playing in a tough football district.
“We had a lot of draws, a lot of draws. But this team works hard, “said Castillo.” I love the grit. I love the heart. That’s what this team is all about, and that’s what got us through this district – we worked hard and gave it our all for the guy next to you. “
Munoz, who is in his 19th year as Coopers head coach and 22nd in the overall standings, sees battle and heart in this year’s team.
“One of the things we talked about this year was identifying early on,” said Munoz. “What kind of team do we want to be? One of the things was just being able to fight. Just work, work every day and strive, strive.
“There were two or three games this year where we had to score a goal in the last two minutes to get a good result – either by a win or by a draw and a point. Being able to do that is just a sign of the great character this team has. “
Keep an eye on the postseason story
Now Cooper has a chance to make history in the postseason.
The Coogs are 2-0 in the postseason – they beat El Paso Franklin 2-1 in today’s 6A in 2014 and Amarillo High 3-0 in 2018.
Getting past Palo Duro won’t be easy. The Dons are 14-1-2 and finished second in District 3-5A behind Amarillo High (12-0-3) – in the district game 0-1-1 against the Sandies.
But hey, it’s football and the best team doesn’t always win.
“We talked about that right after the game,” said Munoz after the Coogs beat San Angelo Lake View 5-0 in a warm-up game at Shotwell Stadium on Tuesday. “Palo Duro is a good team. You scored goals like crazy. They score an average of at least three goals per game. I said to our boys: “We’re going to have to face a tough team. But the good thing about football is that anyone can beat anyone at any time. It’s a crazy game. ‘
“The guys have a lot of confidence to work together to get a good result.”
Joey D. Richards covers Abilene high schools and colleges, big country schools, and other local sports. Follow him on Twitter at ARN_Joey. If you value local news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.
Ramiro Padilla scored twice and helped with another goal in Cooper’s win over Lake View on Tuesday at Shotwell Stadium. John Michael Albarado and Luis Ramirez both scored in the first half, with Guillermo Garcia receiving support for Ramirez. Castillo scored at the beginning of the second half. He assisted Padilla’s first goal 18:07 in the game, and Albarado assisted the final goal less than eight minutes later. Damian had two saves, including a nice stop on a penalty in the second half. Lake View (12-11) will play against Graham in a Region I-4A playoff opener in Shotwell on Friday at 3pm. The Chiefs took second place in District 3-4A behind Snyder, who remained undefeated in the league game.