It’s go-time this weekend for the Toppenish High boys soccer team.
After rolling through the Class 2A state playoffs with two convincing victories over Highline (7-1) and Ellensburg (2-0), the district champion Wildcats are playing in the final four for the first time since 2014.
Just getting this far is a major accomplishment for the program, but these guys aren’t playing for a consolation prize. They want to finish on top.
“There are some tough teams over there this year, but the way we’ve been playing the past couple of weeks, we deserve to be there, too,” head coach Uriel Gonzalez said prior to the Wildcats’ semifinal match against Sehome on Friday evening (results not available at press time). The 2A championship game will be at 5 p.m. Saturday in Sumner.
“Things are going really well for us right now and we’ve really found our rhythm,” he added. “The boys have worked hard all year and they are ready.”
The Wildcats (16-3-1 overall) have been to the state quarterfinals in three of the past four seasons, losing 1-0 in 2016 and 2017 and being disqualified last season due to an ineligible player following a 7-1 victory over Sequim in the round of 16. The program won a third-place trophy during its 2014 run.
After so many narrow setbacks, finding a way to break through this year feels pretty sweet for senior leaders Juan Santiago, Miguel Mendoza and Moises Mancillas.
“This group of seniors has been able to win in the playoffs every year, but hasn’t been able to crack the top eight,” Gonzalez said. “Now that they have gotten to the final four, they’re hungry to win it all.”
At the same time, the ‘Cats aren’t taking anything for granted. Sehome (Bellingham) is 17-2-2 overall, while defending champion Columbia River (Vancouver) is 17-0-1 and Fife is 17-1-1.
Toppenish has played some tough teams to prepare for this moment, but this weekend’s opponents are the best of the best.
“Our players know nothing is a given,” said Gonzalez, who has guided his teams to the state tournament in 11 of his 13 seasons. “They have all committed to each other and put in the time it takes to be successful. Now, they’re excited to showcase their talent at the highest level.”
The biggest contributor in the postseason, at least on the score sheet, has been Mancillas. The Walla Walla Community College recruit scored a Yakima Valley-best 22 goals during the regular season and has tallied four more in the district and state playoffs.
Santiago and Mendoza, the team captains, have capably anchored the back line all season, while freshman Juan Diego Mendoza and sophomore Isai Rodriguez have been the two midfield stalwarts.
Freshman goalkeeper Hector Godinez has also proven his worth and will be a key piece for the program going forward, along with freshman Alexander Magana and sophomores Luciano Martinez and Jose Botello.
There’s also a strong crop of eighth-graders coming in next year, so the ‘Cats should have little trouble reloading.
“I think success breeds success,” Gonzalez said, adding that he also has a number of academic all-stars on the roster. “Our younger guys see what we do year after year and they’re willing to put in the time to keep it going. Everyone here wants to represent our school and our community well, and that makes me and the other coaches very proud.”