Vail Valley preps: Marco Escobar, White all-league booters
GYPSUM – Two things are different about Eagle Valley soccer after four years.
The first is obvious – the Devils are winners. The once-woebegone program is 32-7-5 since an 0-6 start to 2007. That run also included a league title in 2008 and consecutive appearances in the Elite Eight of the 4A state playoffs and a stunning 1-0 win against No. 2 Wheat Ridge on Nov. 2.
The other is one you see if you’re more inside the program.
“I’d just say numbers are a big thing,” senior Steve White said. “I’ve noticed it a lot. My freshman year, we barely had enough kids to field a JV team. This year, we were pushing the numbers toward (having) a C team. With numbers come a bunch of kids with hidden talents which just shine through. The future is looking good.”
Numbers are relevant in the here and now, also. The Devils put four players on the 4A Slope’s all-league team. Marco Escobar and White made the first team, while Gonzalo Gomez and Kevin Escobar are honorable-mention selections.
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
No surprise and a surprise
Marco Escobar making the list is no surprise. Opposing teams from the opener against Middle Park to Mullen in the state quarterfinals had to account for No. 5 at all times. Escobar drew everyone’s top defender, and most of the time, it didn’t matter.
“For me, it feels pretty good,” Escobar said. “Nobody minds getting awards, right?”
Big goals in big games was a theme for Escobar. He had his team’s lone tally in the set of 1-1 and 0-0 ties with archrival Battle Mountain. The senior also had the game winner against Glenwood Springs in a game at Gypsum, which served as both Homecoming and Senior Night.
The biggest difference, however, for Escobar in the past four years, the first two of which were spent at Battle Mountain before transferring, was his composure. Through the first portion of his junior year, Escobar was easy to rattle and attracted more bookings than Frank Sinatra did in Las Vegas during his heyday.
“He went from playing with a lot of uncontrolled emotion to playing a controlled game that raised other players up,” Devils coach Jason Rittmiller said. “It was a big year for him. Last year, he was a good player who came on (toward the end of the season). Now, he plays at a much higher level. If someone upset him, I’d have to take him out and calm him down.”
For Escobar, it was a matter of getting even, instead of getting mad.
“Last year, I lost my head a lot,” Escobar said. “People would mess with me, and I’d take a lot of fouls. This year, I wouldn’t retaliate. I’d try harder when I got fouled and try to blow by the guy.”
White’s all-league nod is not a surprise to those who watched him on a regular basis but definitely one because of the voting process. Offense usually wins out when the coaches get together. Rittmiller nominated White, and the league’s coaches had noticed.
Ever steady in the back, White’s role became even more critical when the Devils moved from a 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2 in the middle of the year.
“He was my guy, him or Miguel (Holguin),” Rittmiller said. “Steve really stepped up to the task. If I were giving directions to the defense, I would give it to Steve and he’d make sure it would happen. He was a rock throughout the season.”
White showed that he was a versatile player, also gaining a role on set pieces on offense. He ended up scoring one of the prettier goals of the season on a header against Glenwood.
“It’s awesome. That’s incredible,” White said about being all league. “I’m kind of speechless.”
Gonzalo and Kevin
A defensive midfielder, Gomez earned his stripes doing the little things that often don’t get noticed but are critical to a team’s success.
Gomez took on a leadership role on and off the field. On the field, he would change his style of play depending on the game situation. He also took a coach’s role, helping take younger players on the squad under his wing.
“He is an unsung hero,” Rittmiller said. “If he was going forward or playing more defensively, I never worried about him. He picked up the slack for others. On defense, he’d always get the ball going in the other direction. He has such a nice touch.”
Kevin Escobar is just a sophomore, but he got everyone’s attention. And he will be in the spotlight next year with some high expectations from his coach.
“He’s got so much potential,” Rittmiller said. “I expect him to be as good as Marco next year, and by (Kevin’s) senior year, he could be something we haven’t seen. He keeps on improving and working so hard. So does (his brother) Nestor. (Kevin’s) very comfortable anywhere in the midfield. He can play with his left or right foot. I can’t wait as he matures and gets better.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or email@example.com.