Seven Lakes battles to win Region III-6A title, earns 1st trip to state
DEER PARK—Seven Lakes kept pushing. Muscles were cramping. Fatigue was a blanket. Sweat drained. Bodies ached.
But the Spartans kept striving. They knew no other way.
And in the end, perseverance, resilience and grit gifted a hard-nosed 3-2 overtime win for Seven Lakes over Cypress Creek in their Region III-6A championship Saturday at Abshier Stadium in Deer Park.
Oh, all that, plus the clutch performance of senior midfielder Javier Rivas, who scored two goals, including the winner with only minutes to spare in the second overtime.
“We kept pushing and pushing,” Rivas said. “Obviously, fatigue was coming in for our legs, especially me, but we wanted to push. We didn’t want to go to penalties. I saw that ball come in and let one rip. That goal felt great. Great feeling.”
An even better feeling? Helping your team make it to state for the first time.
“It’s obviously a new experience for us,” Rivas said. “We’re very excited. But I have full confidence in this team that we can do it. First time at state. I know we can get a win.”
.@SLsoccer: Region III-6A champs. @tascosoccer @LethalSoccer @SLHSABC @KatyISDAthletic @SpartanCrazies_pic.twitter.com/ffwbJYFgRR— VYPE Houston (@VYPE Houston) 1649546335
Rivas’ never-say-never attitude was fitting for a team that embodies such strength.
“He stepped up,” coach Jimmy Krueger said. “He was cramping and battling, and I had to pull him off, put him on, pull him off, put him on. But what a moment for him to be the man that put us through. He’s team-first, always has been. He wants to win. That’s the best thing to have in a captain.”
Because of yellow cards, cramping and injuries, Krueger had to go deep into his bench. Everyone produced. No one let up.
“We said it was going to be survival of the fittest,” Krueger said, “and it was all hands on deck.”
In the 21st minute, Rivas got the Spartans on the board on a rebound off a deflected shot from Noa Stasic. That lead held until Cy-Creek produced a pair of goals within four minutes early in the second half, courtesy of senior Erik Morales and junior Noah Arreola.
But Seven Lakes never folded. That is not its nature. Not after lessons learned from last year’s 1-0 regional quarterfinal loss to bitter rival Tompkins.
“It was so hard to lose to our archrivals,” senior defender Ty Koc said. “We let that moment set in for us. We still think about that day every time we step onto the field. That’s what keeps us going.
“Twice this playoff run, we’ve been down 2-1 and come back to win. It shows the perseverance and how much trust we have in one another.”
The Spartans knotted the game in the 53rd minute on junior Daniel Ejerenwa’s strike. Ejerenwa was one of many unsung heroes for Krueger in the biggest game up to this point of the season.
It stayed 2-2 into the second overtime until Rivas’ goal with 3:47 left, right when it looked like an incredible game was destined for penalty kicks.
For a player so willing to do whatever it takes for the team—so selfless and so giving toward others—it was cinematic that it was Rivas who was celebrated so heartedly afterward.
“I love this team. These are my brothers,” Rivas said. “This is my third year on the team, and I know what it’s like to have a captain who’s loved you and been there for you. I took that, and that’s been my mission this year.
“We’re one team, one unit.”
.@SLsoccer senior Javier Rivas discusses today\u2019s 3-2 Region III-6A championship overtime win over Cypress Creek. Rivas scored two goals, including the winner in the second OT. @tascosoccer @LethalSoccer @SLHSABC @SpartanCrazies_ @KatyISDAthleticpic.twitter.com/d7QiTliOIG— VYPE Houston (@VYPE Houston) 1649547266
Krueger praised his seniors. Until this season, this senior class had never been past the regional quarterfinals.
Of the 25 players on Seven Lakes’ playoff roster, fewer than half (12) are seniors. But they still have their fingerprints all over this season’s success, led by stalwarts like Koc, Rivas, Ben Galloway and Keegan Sneedon.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my seniors for having this be their year that they achieve something that hadn’t been done yet,” Krueger said. “It’s not just the contributors you see on the field. It goes beyond that, to the guys that don’t get on the field as much as they would want. Their emphasis in training, their attitudes … everything they bring is why this is a special group.”
Winning is a family matter for Seven Lakes.
“It’s been a bumpy road, but we’ve trusted the process,” Koc said. “In the preseason, we had some internal issues as a team, just from bonds and connections because of how many seniors we graduated last year. It’s always hard to get those connections down. But we’re family now.
“We’re not just teammates. We’re brothers. We’d scrap and run through walls for each other. I think that’s what sets us apart from any other team.”
The Spartans have earned an opportunity to set themselves further apart. This time, however, it will be on the game’s biggest stage in Georgetown.
“The first thing is to enjoy the ride,” Krueger said. “It’s our first time there. I go to watch (the state tournament) every year, so I’m experienced with what to expect. We have plans for more. We want to see if we can cause some damage. I do believe that this team is a team that can represent Region III pretty well.”