Erik Wolf’s message to his players in his postgame speech Tuesday evening was short and sweet.
Wolf, who guided the Nighthawks to the 5A state playoffs and a first round victory over Cholla High School last year, knows how close his team is to being successful.
Unfortunately for the squad, close wasn’t good enough, and the Nighthawks fell to Tucson High School, 1-0, in a defensive slugfest.
The lone goal of the night came some seven minutes into the second half of the match, when Badgers senior forward Emmanuel Leon Valenzuela buried a shot from inside the box.
The Nighthawks (2-3) had several scoring chances in the game’s waning minutes but couldn’t find a way to put the ball in the back of the net.
For Wolf, the theme of the night revolved around his team’s inability to convert those chances, allowing the Badgers to escape with a hard-fought win on their home turf.
“It's encouraging to know that we can create when we need to, but there's got to be composure in front of the net,” Wolf said. “I mean, the reality is we created enough to not just win this game but win it handily.”
Wolf knows the key to success for his team, which features nine seniors, is to stay focused on the fundaments of the sport.
He’s proud of how well his team played as a unit, especially on the defensive end of the pitch, but believes his players have to do a better job of converting their opportunities on offense.
“You have to be composed. You have to get bodies in the box and, frankly, you just have to finish,” Wolf said. “At the end of the day, the kids played well. That's an unfortunate result, to be honest. They did everything I've asked except for put the ball in the back of the net.”
Senior defender Jonathan Pitts believes the team will bounce back from their early season struggles, especially if they can match the effort shown against the Badgers on Tuesday.
“To lose 1-0 and create as many chances as we did; obviously, we're not happy about the result but with all those chances—we put those in against another team, that's a win,” Pitts said. “So, it was a good game and I'm proud of everyone, and we're just looking to take that into the next game.”
Senior co-captain Alex Fonseca, who spearheaded the Nighthawks offensive attack against a spirited Badgers back line, believes the squad will put what they learned to good use as the season progresses.
“Now we know what to focus on in practice right,” he said. “We created so many opportunities, but we couldn't put them away.”
Wolf loves how dedicated his team is to honing and practicing their craft, with seniors like Fonseca and Pitts leading the charge.
He’s confident that the players will learn from what they did wrong against the Badgers and come back to the pitch with more confidence, which is crucial to teamwide success.
“Their work rate's tremendous, for one,” Wolf said. “Secondly, their composure in possession when they want to is really quite good. That has to translate to goals at some point. I think, in general, I couldn't ask for much more.”
Pitts knows that the Nighthawks have the potential to one-up their playoff success last year, but that the team needs to fix their flaws.
For Pitts and his fellow seniors, the time is now to do just that, with the bulk of the season ahead of them.