Veritas Prep Academy’s varsity boys soccer team is the first boys team in the school’s history to win a state championship in 3A in 2020, and it was accomplished under the leadership of the soccer team’s new coach, Richard Cardenas.
Cardenas was previously the coach of Veritas’ middle school boys soccer, which has won consecutive championships under his instruction.
When the boys varsity soccer coach left unexpectedly in 2018, Cardenas stepped in. The team’s record the year before Cardenas was 6-9, and the first year under his guidance, the team went 15-2 and made it to the semifinals (where they lost to Coronado).
“It is very easy for these young athletes to get mentally fatigued and not have enough emotional energy that tough games require to win. The proper mix of encouragement and fun must be applied with the hard work to keep them confident and focused,” said Cardenas.
According to the boys team, achieving a high level of focus and confidence individually and as a team was one of their greatest challenges for the season.
“We had a goal to win state and were disciplined in achieving this goal,” said Marshall Briggs, a senior and center attacking middle fielder.
“I enjoy the competition, but I also enjoy the dynamics of having to organize a new batch of players into a winning team every year,” said Cardenas.
Even though the varsity soccer team had never won a state championship, Cardenas saw their potential based on their stats from last year and the dynamic personalities on the team.
“The team camaraderie was exceptional. From top to bottom, everybody got along extremely well,” said Cardenas. Sam Zook, a junior left middle fielder, echoed this and explained, “this year, everything just clicked.”
According to Cardenas, the team faced many injuries that became “difficult to manage” throughout the season.
“We had a lot of them and had to sit out key players in difficult games,” said Cardenas. “The team had good depth, so we did not lose any talent on the field when we substituted players.”
Despite their struggles, the team qualified for the semifinals.
Briggs said that playing in the state tournament was the “best atmosphere” he had ever played in. He was one of the three seniors who led the team, along with goalie Ben Power and forward Jason Nunez. Nunez holds the record for most goals scored in Veritas’ history. Junior Landon Briggs and sophomore Brody Richter are credited by onlookers as anchoring the team’s defense.
In the end, they beat their rivals at Coronado, who ousted them in the semifinals the previous year. Coronado or Yuma Catholic had won the state championship the previous six years. Veritas ended the regular season with a 10-1 record.
Junior and center middle fielder Filo Lapiana was awarded the team’s most valuable player. He said that the experience helped him build self-confidence and “grow up as a player and as a person.”
The historical win led to Cardenas being named state Coach of the Year in the 3A division for 2019 and 2020. “I just try to read the team’s energy and tailor my coaching to it,” said Cardenas.