TUCSON — When Douglas High School announced several weeks ago it was canceling its winter sports season because of COVID-19 health safety concerns, several athletes began looking at possibly transferring to other schools that offer winter sports.
Seniors Miguel Sosa, Oscar Valenzuela and Joaquin “Kiki” Escalante, who were vital members of the Bulldogs soccer team that went 19-3-1 last season and reached the Class 4A state semifinals, were looking to continue playing a sport they are passionate about and possibly getting noticed by a collegiate scout who would provide them with an opportunity to play at the next level.
Escalante has family that resides in the Sunnyside school district in Tucson, which allowed him the opportunity to enroll at Sunnyside High School. Per Arizona Interscholastic Association rules that have been amended this year because of COVID-19, players can transfer to another school and be immediately eligible if their school does not compete in a sports season. This opened the door for Escalante, a midfielder, and Sosa, a striker, to join the Sunnyside soccer team, which plays in the 5A region. Valenzuela joined the team this week.
On Jan. 28 in a 5-0 win over Marana, Sosa and Escalante each scored a goal and also recorded an assist for their new team. Sunnyside, which last year advanced to the 5A state championship game, is 2-0 on the season, shutting out its opponents by a combined score of 11-0. On Tuesday Escalante and Sosa represented Douglas well in Sunnyside’s 5-3 overtime win over Canyon Del Oro. Escalante scored three goals this match; Sosa had one.
Sunnyside coach Casey O’Brien, who has an 85-12-5 record and is in his fifth year in the program, said he likes the attitude and work ethic Escalante and Sosa bring each day and states they have been a nice addition to the team.
He admits he is somewhat aware of Douglas High School’s soccer program but wasn’t aware of his new players’ achievements on the field last season. Sosa had 27 goals and nine assists last year and was the Gila Region’s Offensive and overall Region Player of the year, while Escalante had nine goals and three assists and was awarded first-team all-region honors.
“I don’t know much about Douglas or its history but the attitudes these kids have reflects well on the Douglas community,” the coach said.
According to Sosa, the transition to Sunnyside has been relatively smooth.
“I believe this is something as seniors, that we had to do,” he said. “We really didn’t want to leave Douglas, but we both want the opportunity to play at the next level and possibly one day, go pro. Coming here, we feel, can help us do that.”
O’Brien stated he has helped several of his former players go on and play collegiate soccer and several of his current players are being scouted, so the opportunity for Sosa and Escalante to get noticed is there, it’s just up to them to work continue to work hard in both the classroom and on the field.
“It was tough leaving Douglas,” Escalante said. “Douglas is where my heart is always going to be. Coming to Sunnyside, both Miguel and myself were a little concerned because we weren’t quite sure how we were going to adjust to the other players on the team, as well as the coaching staff and the environment, but so far it’s been a really good experience. We are in the process of trying to improve our chemistry with the other players as well as the coaches.”
Sosa added for him to leave Douglas was a hard decision but the fact he has his longtime friend Joaquin with him to help with this transition is helping.
“We both feel we made the right choice in coming here to Sunnyside,” Sosa said. “They have a good, strong program and this year’s team has a lot of talent. You can tell coach O’Brien really cares about his players and wants them to improve not only as students but as players as well. We’re both looking at this as starting a new chapter in our lives.”
Douglas soccer coach Alfonso Romero said he was disappointed when he learned Douglas High School was not going to have a winter sports season this year.
“We had a lot of talent coming back this year and I could see us being ranked No. 1 in the state again,” he said. “With the season being canceled we will never know. I really feel bad for the seniors to have put in a lot of years of training preparing for what was going to be their last season. Having it taken away from them is unfortunate.”
Romero said two other DHS soccer players were considering transferring to Sunnyside, but they did not make the switch.
“We’ve played Sunnyside just a few times over the years,” Romero said. “They’ve always had good teams and have been well coached.”
The coach added some of his players who didn’t transfer have joined club teams in Tucson and Sierra Vista.
“Soccer is very popular here in Douglas,” he said. “Not having a season is difficult for all of us. I think Miguel and Kiki made the right decision to enroll in Sunnyside.
“They may be playing for a different school and wearing a different uniform but they will always be Bulldogs.”
Both Sosa and Escalante stressed they really appreciate all the support the Douglas fans have shown them over the years as well as during this transition.
“As coach (Romero and former coach the late Ken Cormier) has said ‘for whatsoever you do, do it with all your heart,’ ” Escalante said. “That’s what we’re doing.”