Fittingly it was an upset win over Middleton that propelled the Ridgevue boys soccer team into the state tournament last fall.
The Warhawks had been dismantled twice by Middleton earlier in the season – and had a long team meeting after one of the games that served as the season’s turning point.
“The whole team stayed after the game and we got everything off our chest,” Ezri Palacios said. “Everything that wasn’t going good, everything we felt needed to change. Once that happened…everything fell into place.”
Ridgevue – a first year program that didn’t even have a head coach until a week before tryouts – had no seniors on the roster and wasn’t expected to do much.
The Warhawks wouldn’t listen. After the mid-season turnaround they entered the District II Tournament as the No. 5 seed – but upset No. 3 seed Middleton 3-2 to earn the league’s final ticket to the state tournament.
Ridgevue upset defending state champion Century in the opening round and went on to reach the championship game, where they fell in heartbreaking fashion in double overtime to Skyview.
For overcoming the odds in their inaugural season and becoming the first Ridgevue athletic team to reach the state tournament, the Warhawks are the Idaho Press-Tribune’s 2016-2017 Sports Stars Inspirational Team of the Year.
“I am very proud of the boys because we all connected to where we were first just coach and players, but now we’re like a family,” coach Oscar Ramirez said. “I’m very proud. Now they know they can go further not only in soccer but in life if they work and focus on what they want.”
Ramirez and the Warhawks faced quite the challenge in year No. 1. After the original coach backed out a week before tryouts, Ramirez was hired without knowing any of the players.
“I didn’t know what I was walking into,” said Ramirez, who has coached club soccer since moving to Nampa in 2005. “I knew I liked working with kids and I knew it would be tough, but I like challenging myself.”
With no seniors on the roster and a number of bad losses to start the season, things weren’t looking good early on. But the Warhawks never quit.
“Our goal was to get to state, but I knew it was going to be a miracle if we did because we were a first year program and we lost almost every game in the beginning,” Palacios said. “But we started playing like a team and everything fell into place.
“When we made it to state it was like a dream actually coming true.”
Ridgevue led 2-0 in the state title game and looked poised to do the unthinkable – a state title in the first year of the program. But a talented Skyview team battled back to force overtime and eventually won it 3-2 in double overtime.
When the pain of the golden goal loss went away, the Warhawks were able to celebrate an improbable second place finish. And with the entire team coming back including leading goal scorer Hector Pena and key contributor Lupe Barajas, they have plenty to be excited about as well.
“I’m very proud of my whole team,” Palacios said. “It was a very memorable season. It was a bummer we didn’t win state, but we’re going to try again next year. I can’t wait for next year.”