11/16/11 — Family values lead to Gators' soccer success

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Family values lead to Gators' soccer success

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on November 16, 2011 1:48 PM

Families inspire you to reach great heights and comfort you when you occasionally falter.

The Spring Creek boys' soccer team is a perfect example of a family.

Its six seniors -- Antonio Avila, Mauricio Bautista, Eric Fuentes, Omar Zavela, Edgar Rangel and Sal Carreno -- have served as the compass to guide one of the school's most successful athletic programs.

They've worked together toward a common vision each season on the pitch and their efforts fueled phenomenal results during their four years of varsity play. The sextet became the first-ever senior class -- in any Spring Creek sport -- to win four consecutive Carolina 1-A Conference championships.

And they did it in perfect fashion.

The Gators compiled a mind-boggling 28-0-3 record against league opposition and finished 48-12-8 overall during that stretch. The 2009 squad, directed by then-head coach Paul Estrada, advanced to the N.C. High School Athletic Association eastern regional title game.

Soccer is, no doubt, these boys' world.

They gave their heart and soul to it.

"We never in our mind thought we would (win four in a row), but we knew we could do it and that's one thing that has kept us going all these years," said Avila, who led the team with 13 goals this season. "It's hard and easy (to mesh personalities) because we all relate coming from different places to do one thing, but it's not complicated.

"We all have a passion for the game."

Familiarity led to success during their first varsity year at Spring Creek after a solid middle school campaign. Despite the revolving door of coaches, they stayed together and progressed, and steadily gained respect among their conference peers.

That hard work took the program to another level.

In the school's decade-long existence, only three Gator programs have advanced to regional play -- boys' and girls' tennis, and boys' soccer. The tennis program, guided by then-head coach Robert Jones, produced dual-team state runner-ups in 2003 (girls) and 2005 (boys).

Zavela says the team's blessing has been the players' love for each other as if they were a family living under the same roof.

"I enjoy being with them after school ... hanging out like a family," smiled Zavela. "They're always there for me in good and bad times."

Estrada and his predecessor Johnny Galarza instilled a good work ethic and discipline into the program. Their tutelage cultivated the program's talent through hard work, and it paid off with the Gators' first unbeaten season in league play in 2008.

The 2009 squad adapted to Estrada's ball-possession, fast-paced style that led to a single-season 17 victories. The pattern continued in 2010 and resulted in Carolina Conference title number four in the past five years.

League opponents found the net a little bit more against the Gators this season, but just couldn't snap the program's conference win streak. So, during its remarkable four-year run, Spring Creek outscored Carolina Conference foes 152-18, posted 18 shutouts and permitted just one goal every 141 minutes and 10 seconds of play.

"The hard work wasn't a given, but (Galarza and Estrada) showed them that if you work hard, you are going to succeed," said Dante Ortiz, a Gator alum who played for Galarza and Estrada, and served as an assistant coach this season.

"These guys have the spirit ... is a team that eats, breathes, lives the sport. We're like a family with the same passion and objectives."

And a family that has built a solid future for years to come.