‘A lot of fun’: A look back at Los Jets’ 20-win anniversary season

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SILER CITY — Plenty of North Carolina’s bigger cities and smaller towns ooze with their own sports lore, their own athletic legends and their own storybook-worthy tales.

Add Siler City to that list. And move it near the top.

In 2006, Paul Cuadros, UNC-Chapel Hill professor and longtime head coach of the Jordan-Matthews men’s soccer team, wrote a book, “A Home on the Field,” detailing his journey to form a school-sanctioned soccer team at J-M and its eventual run to a state title just a few years later.

During a time riddled with division and racial tension as Latino migration to Siler City skyrocketed, Cuadros overcame a plethora of obstacles to create the first predominantly Latino program at J-M, labeled “Los Jets,” which has since captured the heart of Siler City and become one of the county’s most successful programs.

“‘You are the first,’ I started,” wrote Cuadros in his book, detailing his speech to the team a week before their first-ever game against Chatham Central. “‘Remember that you are getting the chance that many other Latinos at this school wanted but never got. You are the ones who are making history today. You are the first Latino Jets.’”

Since the team’s inaugural season, Cuadros — acting as the men’s team’s head coach for nearly its entire existence — has amassed a 320-92-19 record with 1,598 goals scored and just 532 goals against.

The Jets have won 12 conference titles, had 90 all-conference selections, had eight all-state selections and made the postseason every year in its program history (20 consecutive appearances), including nine quarterfinal appearances and one state title (2004).

For his accomplishments, Cuadros has been named an all-conference Coach of the Year 10 times and Regional Coach of the Year eight times, along with one State Coach of the Year in 2008.

In other words, the Jets have had no shortage of success over the last 20 years.

It was said by J-M officials in the 1990s that fanfare and attendance for soccer in Siler City wouldn’t be able to touch that of basketball and football, but soccer has since become one of J-M’s most popular sports as the community around both the men’s and women’s teams have flourished.

And while the Jets have had plenty of reasons to celebrate and a boatload of successful, impressive and special seasons, this past year — which marked the 20th anniversary of Los Jets’ creation — was nothing short of spectacular.

The climb and the finale

The Jets opened the season at home against the in-county rival Northwood Chargers in a match that saw plenty of opening-half struggles on J-M’s part.

At the halftime break, it was a 1-1 game, with Cuadros saying he was unhappy that his players weren’t winning as many balls as he thought they should’ve been.

In the second half, that all changed as the Jets came out strong, scoring three goals in the final 40 minutes to seal a 4-1 victory.

It may not have been pretty, but it was clear that J-M was putting together something special.

“This is our first game,” Cuadros said after the win. “Guys are learning new positions, guys are learning how to handle their feelings and nerves. … We have the four C’s, which are communication, cooperation, coordination and composure. It was really about composure tonight.”

J-M went on to tie with Asheboro, another top-tier 3A school, with a 1-1 score in the following contest.

Then, the winning streak began.

The Jets won a blowout over Raleigh Charter (8-0) and two close ones over East Duplin (3-2) and Union Pines (2-1), propelling them to a 4-1-0 start in their non-conference slate.

Their 8-1 road win over Eastern Alamance on Sept. 9 then sparked a stretch of 11 straight games over 46 days in which the Jets didn’t score fewer than 6 goals.

They won all 11 of them.

Jordan-Matthews junior Zander Ocampo (7) dribbles down the field in the Jets’ 6-0 win over the Cummings Cavaliers on Oct. 18. Ocampo was the Jets’ lone All-State selection this season. / Staff photo by Simon Barbre

On Sept. 23 against Providence Grove, perhaps an even more impressive streak began: the shutout spell.

From Sept. 23 to Oct. 25, J-M didn’t give up a single goal.

Their defense — which had already been impeccable, having given up no more than 1 goal in any game — turned up the heat.

When asked about the shutout spell in October, Cuadros laughed and chalked it up to his team being tired of giving up a single goal in many of their blowout wins. So they just … stopped doing that.

Both of the Jets’ goal-related streaks came to an end with a 3-1 win over Cummings in the regular season finale on Oct. 26, but the most important one remained: the team’s, at the time, 16-game winning streak.

They had officially finished the regular season unbeaten with a 17-0-1 record and were headed to the postseason.

Since the Jets’ newly aligned conference, the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A, consisted of just five teams this season — including Chatham’s Seaforth High School, consisting of only freshmen and sophomores and which went winless in the conference, and another which played just 10 total games due to COVID-19 issues (Cummings) — their RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) — taken from MaxPreps, which primarily takes into account a team’s strength of schedule to seed teams in the playoffs — ranked them No. 6 in the 2A East despite their undefeated record, forcing them to take a playoff road trip after just two home playoff wins over Southwest Onslow (3-1) and East Bladen (9-0).

The Jets then knocked off the No. 3 N.C. School of Science & Math Unicorns, 3-1, in an emotional road overtime win to advance to the Elite Eight, just two games shy of the state title game.

Then, it all came to an end on Nov. 10 in a 3-2 loss to the No. 2 Greene Central Rams in the state quarterfinals, stunning the Jets and halting their attempt at a perfect season.

Emotional celebration

If you ask Cuadros to describe this season, his response likely won’t surprise you.

“The journey that was this year, it was a lot of fun,” Cuadros said. “I enjoyed myself.”

The significance of this season — with it being the 20th anniversary, a major feat for a program that almost didn’t exist — wasn’t lost on Cuadros as the season went on.

In fact, he embraced it.

Before the season, he had stickers made with the logo of the Jets’ 20th-anniversary crest on them. After each game, he’d hand them out to players “that ignite us, that spark us during the game” and players began striving to earn them.

As Cuadros put it, those stickers are representative of the program’s 20-year history. And if a player earns one, that cements their spot in Los Jets’ legacy.

Whether it was stickers given out as rewards, halftime celebrations featuring former Jets players or traveling mobile exhibits telling the story of the program’s creation, Cuadros, his team and Siler City as a whole made sure this year felt special.

After all, a program infused with this much passion and history deserves it.

Even if the Jets had been 1-20-1, the celebrations would’ve likely remained unchanged and the community still would’ve come out to support and celebrate the team and its history.

“It’s a successful program that has a tradition of excellence and winning and there’s an investment by the community,” Cuadros said. “The Jets are a special program because of the culture we’ve created with it.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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