13 Apr 2011
- Written by Didier Morais (Houston Chronicle)
- Hits: 995
In preseason, there were no guarantees Kingwood Park would return to its second straight state soccer tournament. Not with its best player's availability in question.
But the situation was out of Isaiah Noreiga's control. Fresh off last year's run to the Class 4A state final, the forward was offered the opportunity to play for the under-17 Trinidad and Tobago national team in the World Cup qualifiers.
The competition was slated for January and February, a timetable that would potentially jeopardize Noreiga's junior season at Kingwood Park.
"It was hard," Noreiga said. "I was torn because I wanted to play for Kingwood Park and get a state title after we lost last year. I really wanted it. But I was also very excited about wanting to play for my national team."
But Noreiga can laugh about the circumstances. Once Canada eliminated his country in the quarterfinals Feb. 23, he flew home, served a 15-day waiting period — per University Interscholastic League policy — and returned in the regular-season finale before guiding the Panthers to the state tournament, where they will play Boerne Champion (27-3-1) at 6 p.m. Thursday.
For 18 of the Panthers' 19 regular-season games, coach Jason Watson had to steady the ship without Noreiga — a staple on the varsity team since his freshman year.
"You'd like to have him, but I wouldn't hold anyone back from that opportunity," Watson said. "We knew he may or may not be back. But at the same time, we're not a very good team if we can't make the playoffs without one player."
The playoff pursuit started out well as Tyler Smith, Cody Lofgren and Oscar Porras, who combined for 25 goals this season, guided the Panthers to an 8-0 district start.
But they couldn't withstand losses to Spring Woods and Northbrook, dropping them to second-place in District 42-4A.
Meanwhile, Noreiga could only play junior varsity soccer as he awaited UIL varsity reinstatement.
"It was kind of hard for me because we ended up getting second in district and I wasn't able to play," Noreiga said. "My goal then was just to help the JV players because I know they're our future."
Once Noreiga returned for the postseason, the team improved. He showcased his progression from his stint with Trinidad and Tobago, netting a team-high three goals.
"We did well this season and we could have (made state without Noreiga)," Watson said. "But he certainly made it a heck of a lot easier."