In a season like no other, perhaps it is fitting that the first scheduled game was canceled.
The Pahrump Valley High School football team was supposed to kick off the school’s “fall” sports season tonight at Faith Lutheran High School, but the requirements to take the field proved too challenging to meet in such a short period of time. The other four scheduled games are expected to be played.
“We have to cancel our football game at Faith Lutheran due to not having permission to begin our testing program yet,” PVHS Athletic Administrator Jason Odegard said. “We are waiting for an inspection before we can be approved.”
All schedules are tentative at this point.
The football, soccer and cross country teams all spent time Wednesday at Trojan Field, preparing for the shortest and most unusual season any of them have ever played. But six weeks of competition, no postseason play and the constant threat of a sudden cancellation looming over each contest did little to affect the practices, and the coaches were finally ready to talk about their teams instead of the pandemic’s effects.
When we last left the Trojans, they were on the wrong end of a 35-0 score in the Class 3A Southern Region playoffs against their perennial tormentor, Moapa Valley. So perhaps it’s fitting that, with the game against Faith Lutheran canceled, the Trojans will open by getting another crack against the Pirates, who own a 41-4 record against the Trojans, although the teams have met just twice since 2013.
If the Trojans plan on starting to chip away at that series lead, they will do it the same way they have done everything else in recent seasons.
“We’re going to run right at you just like we normally do,” head coach Joe Clayton said.
The Trojans clock-chewing offense works if the offensive line is working, and while guard Anthony Pearson moving leaves a hole, Clayton is excited about sophomore Tanner Hanks taking that spot. And he won’t be alone.
“We’ve got several sophomores who are stepping up in varsity roles,” Clayton said. “We are going to be young. It will be interesting to see, but we obviously have some experienced guys around them who will help bring those guys to the level they need to be.”
And Clayton said the lines are always in good hands thanks to assistant coach Fred Schmidt, who has coached the past two Class 3A Southern Region linemen of the year in Zach Trieb and Caleb Sproul.
The Trojans have several players who will take turns running through the holes the line opens.
“It’s going to be a committee, probably more than ever before depending on how the younger kids do,” Clayton said. “We have six to eight boys we’re going to rotate on a regular basis.”
“Our offense, we put a lot on that offensive line, and they’ve been working hard,” offensive coordinator Craig Rieger said. “We go right side, left side. We have some depth at the wings, our running backs, which is great.”
Clayton said that sophomore quarterback Makoa Batongbacal will be directing traffic for the Trojans’ Jet offense, and while Pahrump Valley does not throw often, taking care of the ball will be critical to their success.
Taking care of themselves also will be critical. With 27 players expected to suit up for the varsity — there are 60 players in the program — injuries could be difficult to overcome.
“We have to stay healthy to do what we do: block, long drives, working hard, take care of the ball,” Rieger said. “Our offense is our offense. Ball control, first downs and time of possession.”
On the other side of the ball, expect to see a solid group of linebackers. Clayton said that corps could be the strongest he’s ever had at Pahrump Valley and will be the key cog in a defense designed to be simple and straightforward.
“The kids can attack the ball without thinking too much,” Clayton said.
Senior Andrew Avena will handle punting and kicking chores, and Clayton knows he can count on opponents starting on their 20-yard line thanks to his strong leg. “He’s by far the top kicker in the league,” Clayton said. “He’s got a big enough leg to be a punter for the first time.”
Returning kicks will be Henry Amaya, an athletic junior who is another player Clayton is excited to see in game action.
That will happen in two weeks, with the Trojans scheduled to face Moapa Valley at 7 p.m. March 19 at Trojan Field in the first of four consecutive home games.
None of the full-contact issues of football exist in cross country, in which the only real concession to the pandemic is how many teams can run in a race.
“Only four teams can run at a time on a campus, so what we’re looking at is if there are four teams there they can run, and they have to be gone before the next teams can come on to the same venue,” PVHS cross country coach Erik Odegard explained.
Odegard said he has 13 boys and seven girls in the program, although not many have varsity experience.
“I’ve got three girls back from last year and three boys, one with varsity experience,” he said. “The nice thing is we don’t have any seniors, so we’re preparing for next year more than anything with a shortened season this year.”
And the team is still growing, adding two more runners in the past week.
“We’re still recruiting,” Odegard said. “We tell the kids every day, if you’ve got a friend who’s not doing something, bring them over. Until you start running you don’t know if you can do it or not.”
One of the ones who can do it is junior Arianna Hamilton, who qualified for the Class 3A state championships in 2019 by finishing 15th at the Southern Region meet in Boulder City, running the 5,000-meter Veterans Park course in 24 minutes, 54.4 seconds.
“I feel like I’m pretty ready, but we don’t have state this year so it doesn’t really matter,” Hamilton said. “We have all year to prepare for state next year.”
It’s a logical attitude for a team with no seniors, but finding motivation is not an issue.
“I just love cross country,” she said. “It’s an escape from the real world, so that motivates me. I like the feeling of competing. It gives you serotonin, energy.”
Similar feelings push junior Ulises Sotelo, the lone boys runner with varsity experience.
“What motivates me is just I love running, ever since I can remember, since I was a small kid,” said Sotelo, whose 2019 season was marred by injuries unrelated to cross country. “And I’m really competitive, so I try to at least place top three.”
The Trojans will get their first taste of competition Saturday morning, when they host Amplus Academy, Green Valley Christian, White Pine and Needles in a meet that begins at 9 a.m.
“We’ve been practicing Saturdays at about 8 o’clock,” Odegard said. “It’s been about 50 degrees, and that’s a good temperature to run in.”
When the football team wrapped up practice, the girls soccer team took over the field. Coach Julie Carrington has an interesting roster with four seniors playing key roles and four freshmen expected to start — including the goalkeeper.
Carrington will turn to Avery Moore, who, despite her age, has plenty of soccer experience, playing for the Junior Trojans Soccer Club as well as a club team in Las Vegas.
“She can dive,” said Carrington, noting that many young keepers shy away from coming out and diving on the ball for fear of injury. Not Moore. “She sees the field that you don’t see at that age. She has a confidence that is beyond her ninth-grade year. And she can run.”
The coach has been raving about her core group of seniors — Makayla Gent, Kaylee Mendoza, Ally Rily and Maddy Souza — since they were freshmen. Another senior, Anai Garcia, is returning to the team.
“My seniors are so strong, but at the same time I have freshmen coming up who are really good,” she said, noting the same thing happened when today’s seniors were freshmen. The Trojans went to state that year.
Mendoza will be the striker in Carrington’s 4-5-1 alignment. “We play a 4-2-3-1, but 4-5-1 is easier,” she says. And no matter what you call it, the Trojans will open the season against a very challenging opponent: Bishop Gorman, which went 18-6-1 in the Class 4A Desert League in 2019.
“It’s not the caliber we normally play, but I think they can do it. I believe,” said Carrington, already excited about the matchup. “They are an amazingly good team. Their ability to pass on one touch and see the field is just on point. Same thing with Faith.”
That would be Faith Lutheran, which would be the defending Class 4A state champion if the Crusaders were still in 4A instead of the new 5A. They play the Trojans twice this year, on March 16 in Las Vegas and April 6 in Pahrump.
“I think they will surprise themselves,” Carrington said. “I tell them it’s a really good team, but I don’t want them to think they can’t do it. The biggest thing is just not having enough time to work together.”
While Carrington will have just 14 players on her varsity roster, boys coach Chris Roberts isn’t in much better shape with 15.
“It’s very low, but enough to have two teams with a little bit of juggling,” he said.
That juggling means that players who will be on junior varsity will get some chances to play varsity.
“There were a couple of guys that I probably would have given a chance on varsity if I had the numbers, but right now I’d rather give them a little more playing time down at JV and then bring them up occasionally,” he explained. “Being that most of the teams don’t have JV teams, I’ll probably have a few of those players play up at varsity on those days.”
Roberts expects three or four players to be new to the starting lineup, but the Trojans will look to familiar faces for offense. Junior Christian Mott will be counted on to put the ball in the net from his midfield position, and Roberts moved senior Rafa Nunez from defense up to the midfield.
“He’s probably going to be part of that,” Roberts said, referring to taking a share of the scoring load. “We have Gonzalo (Gonzalez) and possibly Chris Vega on the outside.”
Roberts plans to start senior Ulises Salazar in net, although there is competition for that job. He said most of the players he expected to come out for the team came out.
“I’ve always pushed that if you love the game, then come out and do your best,” said Roberts, who has built a program where one didn’t exist, taking a team that went 3-16-3 in 2017 to records of 12-9-1 and 11-7 the past two years. “At least we’re having a season, and not everyone can say that. Look at Clark County.”
While soccer without a postseason won’t seem the same, Roberts is treating it like any other season.
“This year is going to be a shotgun season,” he said. “It’s only five weeks, two games a week and sometimes three. There’s not going to be a lot to work on. Everyone likes to win, so you don’t go out not to win. I treat every season as if we’re trying to go to postseason while working toward the future as well.”
That dual purpose is why Roberts, like some other coaches, had a little trouble remembering how many seniors were on his roster, for the same reason as some other coaches.
“I don’t look at seniors, juniors or sophomores, I look at the player,” he said. “Some seniors don’t like that, because maybe they don’t get as much playing time as they think they deserve. But if you want your program to grow, you have to play the best players and the ones that put in the work.”
But this bizarre year has had an effect.
“Not too bad, I guess, a little rusty,” was his evaluation. “Not a whole lot of footwork from the starting and stopping and starting and stopping. It’s something to work on.”
The Trojans tentatively will play a 10-game schedule starting with back-to-back home games against SLAM Nevada on March 11 and Faith Lutheran on March 16.