The Mendota boys soccer team’s Class of 2023 has been playing together since grade school.
“We’ve always been the winning team,” midfielder Rafa Romero said.
That didn’t change when the group got to high school.
Romero and classmates Johnathan Cortez and Jasiel Watson played important varsity minutes as freshmen and have been key players in the program.
This season, the seniors have led the Trojans to an 11-2 record, bringing their four-year varsity record to 58-9 to go along with three regional titles and a sectional championship.
“Our chemistry is unmatched,” Romero said. “We know where other people want the ball. We’re best friends on and off the field. On the field, we might get on each other a little bit, but at the end of the day, we love each other.”
Along with chemistry, Mendota coach Nick Meyers said the group, who were freshmen when he started his second stint as the Trojans’ head coach, came into high school with a strong work ethic.
“They’re a bunch of hard workers,” Meyers said. “[Cortez, Romero and Watson] set the tone from Day 1 as freshmen. They’re coachable. They show up to practice. They’re dedicated. They’re always on time. They’ve listened all four years, and they’ve gotten better because of it.
“They came in as hard workers. They’re always ready for big games. They’re willing to step up. They’ve never shied away from the moment. I think what’s helped them be so successful is their attitudes.”
The Trojans have a big game Wednesday as they welcome Bloomington Central Catholic to Mendota.
The Saints beat Mendota in penalty kicks in the Class 1A BCC Supersectional last season and went on to place third in state.
“That was plenty of motivation,” Cortez said about the supersectional loss. “We used it as motivation every day for practices and games. We’re thinking we’re going to play Bloomington soon and play some big schools, and we can’t get embarrassed. We have to show we can still keep up with them despite all the seniors leaving and not having the same team as last year.
“It’s definitely going to be a tight game. It’s going to be aggressive. It’s going to be back and forth, but I’m confident we can play a good game and hopefully get the result.”
The Trojans are in a stretch of games against strong competition after playing in the BodyArmour Showdown in Schaumburg over the weekend.
After winning its first 10 games, Mendota suffered a 1-0 loss to North Shore Country Day on Saturday before bouncing back for a 5-2 win over Prairie Ridge.
Toward the end of the regular season, Mendota will play in the Great River Classic in Burlington, Iowa.
Meyers said perennially strong programs such as Timothy Christian, Quincy Notre Dame and defending 1A state champion Wheaton Academy are in the tournament.
The Trojans hope the big-game experience and the possible return of senior starters Ricky Orozco and Edgar Arteaga from injury lead to another deep postseason run.
“We’re going to get some top-notch competition before the postseason,” Meyers said. “I think whether we win, lose or tie those games, it’s going to give us so much experience and confidence going into the postseason. We’d love to win as many games as we can the rest of the way.
“We’re hoping to make a state run. I think if we can get Ricky and Edgar back healthy for the postseason we have more than enough in our arsenal to make a run at state.”
GOALS FOR GARCIA
Along with being a big game Wednesday against Bloomington Central Catholic, it will be a special night for the Trojans as they honor teammate David Garcia.
The senior was diagnosed with cancer in July and is undergoing chemotherapy at OSF in Peoria.
The program sold gold “Goals for Garcia” shirts, and Meyers said there may be extras for sale at the game. A T-shirt is $20, a hoodie is $30 and a crew neck is $35.
All proceeds go to Garcia’s family.
Meyers said all of the Bloomington Central Catholic players and quite a few of their parents have purchased the shirts.
“I think it’s absolutely awesome,” Meyers said.
There also is a Go Fund Me at www.gofundme.com/f/a9wfms-fund-for-david-garcia.