This year’s senior class gave La Salle soccer perhaps its best chance yet to finally earn the young program’s first trip to the Class 1A state tournament.

Forward Marco Hernandez stood out as a leader among those nine seniors and set his sights on an elusive district title. Then the COVID-19 pandemic erased the season, leaving Hernandez to wonder what could have been.

The three-year starter missed a chance to earn SCAC West MVP honors for the third straight year. But Hernandez hopes he can extend his competitive soccer career at Grand Canyon University, either as a forward or on the wing, where he played for the Central Washington Sounders.

“Physically it’s a lot harder,” Hernandez said. “There’s a lot more running, more physical contact. Mentally it’s better because I don’t have too much weight on my shoulders.”

That pressure to score weighed on him heavily as a sophomore, when Hernandez notched 22 goals and 11 assists as the primary focus of opposing defenses. The addition of Eric Cuevas last season helped Hernandez relax and he contributed significantly to La Salle’s unbeaten regular season, posting team-highs of 19 goals and nine assists.

Coach Felix Hernandez said the senior forward played with more confidence and looked poised to establish himself as a bona fide college prospect this spring. His great first touch provided the Lightning a significant scoring threat any time he received the ball.

“He has a great attitude,” Felix Hernandez said. “He works hard. He’s very positive with his teammates.”

Those qualities could help Marco Hernandez earn a spot on the club team at GCU, where he’s expecting to end up next fall to study criminal justice. If given the opportunity, Hernandez hopes to eventually work his way on to the roster for the school’s Division I squad.

Reach Luke Thompson at luthompson@yakimaherald.com and on Twitter: @luketscribe