Senior captain Isaiah Ruiz heads upfield as the Lobos go on the attack in their season-ending loss to Willcox. Photo by Dave Lumia

The numbers game has always been a difficult one to master for the Patagonia High soccer team.

And so it was in 2023, as the Lobos’ season came to an end on October 12 with a 3-0 loss to Willcox. The Lobos were able to suit up only 11 players against a formidable opponent ranked seventh in Class 1A and with a sideline filled with as many reserves as the Lobos had players in uniform.

Patagonia’s season got off to a promising 3-4 start, but the Lobos lost their final six matches as injuries thinned out their roster. There was no cavalry coming to the rescue. The six losses included a forfeit to The Gregory School when Patagonia was unable to field a full team.

“I was excited the way we started out,” first-year head coach Alex Santos said. “We got a couple of wins under our belt, but obviously it wasn’t the season we expected. We got the injury bug and didn’t have the numbers to compete against the bigger schools. 

“The second half of the season we played with 11, 12 players. I have players coming up to me saying, ‘Hey coach, I’m exhausted.’ I’m like, ‘Sorry, I don’t have any more subs.’”

Patagonia’s 3-10 record reflected a two-win improvement over 2022, but Santos and his players expected more.

“Overall, we had a better season than last year, and it’s always good to see improvement,” Santos said. “Three wins are more than one, but we weren’t hoping to have just three wins.”

The Lobos honored five seniors following the Willcox game: Greyson Gehlert, Arturo Magallanes, William Botz, and captains Isaiah Ruiz and Leonardo Nunez. Santos praised them for their leadership.

“Isaiah was a true captain,” Santos said. “He was the overall workhorse of our team. He never complained about anything, and when I needed him most, he was there. Greyson made the whole team laugh. In my serious moments he could make me laugh too. He brought a lot of fun to our team. He was the conductor. Leonardo is a true captain. He shows up, never complains, never takes a game off. The whole season, not once did he take a break. 

“Last year, Art was the only player to show up the first day—he didn’t know a drop about soccer. This year as a senior he’s shown a great touch, he’s come along and become a good athlete and a good player. When William came out for his first day of practice this year, he didn’t know much about soccer. He is very humble, very quiet, a very respectful athlete. When William was most needed, he was there for us.”

Santos also commended the play of striker Daniel Castro and goalkeeper Jaxon Yslava. Overall, he was proud that his team kept fighting with a good attitude.

“It’s hard to lose games, it sucks, it’s tough to keep coming back, but you’ve just got to get better,” Santos said. “I didn’t have anybody quit on me. They continued to have fun, and that’s always a main goal.

“I’d rather play 11 that won’t give up than 20 that will give up when it gets tough.”