JONESBORO — Jonesboro needed a victory over Batesville to pull into a tie atop the 5A-East conference soccer standings and a healthy margin to claim a tiebreaker edge when the teams met on a blustery April evening at Cooksey-Johns Field.
Jorge Vargas helped the Hurricane win big in one of its biggest games this year, giving a performance indicative of his banner senior season.
Vargas scored three goals to lead Jonesboro to a 4-0 victory that propelled the Hurricane to a 5A-East co-championship with Batesville. Thanks to the margin of victory in that game, Jonesboro also earned the league’s No. 1 seed in the state tournament.
“I’d say it was one of our best games, not just individually for me but as a team,” Vargas said. “We went out there with the purpose to win and we were going to win. For me to get three goals was big individually, but I was thinking of it more as a team thing.”
Jonesboro’s home victory over Batesville was one of nine games this season where Vargas, the Best Under The Sun Player of the Year in boys’ soccer, scored three or more goals. He finished the season with 42 goals and nine assists.
First-year Jonesboro head coach Kenton Weaver described Vargas as a unique talent.
“He’s a phenomenal athlete, very deceptive. I would say that’s something Coach (Jacob) Lamberson first noticed about him,” Weaver said, sharing an observation from the Hurricane’s assistant coach.
“He’s one of your bigger kids out there on the field, but the speed and the quickness he has is incredible. You throw in the skill set he has along with that size and speed, I think that’s what separates him from everyone else on the field, to be honest with you.”
With Vargas leading the way, the Hurricane fashioned an 18-3 record, its only regular-season losses coming to eventual Class 4A state champion Valley View and at Batesville.
Jonesboro won 13 consecutive games before losing 4-1 to eventual state runner-up Russellville in the 5A state quarterfinals. Vargas gave the Hurricane the lead before the Cyclones seized control.
Vargas said beating Beebe 7-0 in the first round of the state tournament was a highlight. The Hurricane exited in the first round in 2019, when Vargas and his classmates were sophomores, and saw their season canceled early in 2020.
“It meant a lot to everybody on the team to get past that first-round stage and unfortunately we lost to Russellville, but we gave them a heck of a game and they’ll for sure remember us,” Vargas said. “Going into state, we were more of the underdog compared to Russellville, Benton and these other bigger schools.”
Even with his junior season limited to only a few games, Vargas closed his Jonesboro career with 92 goals. He scored 25 goals as a freshman in 2018 to earn Best Under The Sun Newcomer of the Year honors, then added 19 goals as a sophomore.
Vargas said the 2021 Hurricane was a cohesive squad.
“Everybody gets along,” he said. “I’ve played with guys since MacArthur and those guys have played together since City Stars, so it was one big group and the new players who came in, everyone was so open. They took them as friends.
“I felt like this year all the players were much more motivated to have a great season than all the past years. I guess they realized we had a good amount of seniors and even the younger guys were trying their heart out, which meant a lot to all of our seniors.”
Weaver said the Hurricane in general and Vargas in particular benefited from an early test from Valley View, which used a late goal to defeat Jonesboro 1-0.
“They really exposed some weaknesses in our program and not from a skill standpoint, just from a mental standpoint. We really got to see the growth of all our guys and really Jorge, that stood out to me,” Weaver said. “Just the maturity process for him, where he was from that point to where he was at the end of the season, was one of the things Coach Lamberson and I were extremely proud of.”
Vargas scored five goals against both West Memphis and Paragould, also finishing with four in a victory at Sylvan Hills. His last hat trick came in the first round of the state tournament as he scored three goals against Beebe.
Weaver said Vargas’ season totals could have been even more impressive.
“He was out for four games and you take those into consideration, he could have had over 50 goals this year,” Weaver said.
Vargas earned all-state and all-state tournament honors. He was also selected as one of the East All-Stars.
Weaver said several college programs contacted him about Vargas, who is hoping to play in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and willing to accept any role on the field.
“I would say I can play anywhere on the field. If the team is down a defender, I’ll step up and be a defender,” Vargas said. “If the team needs a goalkeeper, I’ll step up and be a goalkeeper. It’s whatever the team needs. I’ll do whatever it takes to win.”