Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Wood River?s case for the defense

Girls? soccer will challenge in 4A class

Express Staff Writer

Quick?which Wood River High School athletic program has never had a losing season at the varsity level?

You?re right if you answered the Wood River girls? varsity soccer team. Twelve years, and the Wolverines (126-37-18, .708) have never had a losing sea-son. But they came close to falling below .500 last fall because of a sometimes-porous defense and a tougher slate of games.

And the schedule won?t get any easier because 2004 will be Wood River?s first year at the 4A level.

Only a late-season streak of five wins in Wood River?s last six games?including a dramatic 3-2 loss to American Falls in the State 3A tournament title game?kept the Wolverines (11-9-3, second at state) above water. They yielded 65 goals, as many as the five previous seasons, combined.

Not surprisingly, defense is the focus of first-year coach Greg Gvozdas as Wood River opens its season Saturday, Aug. 28 at Twin Falls, a team that past Wolverine teams have usually dominated (a 15-3-4 record). But Twin beat Wood River twice in 2003.

?Our offense should be able to score, but our defense has to be a little tighter,? said former college soccer player Gvozdas, last year?s junior varsity coach who switched jobs with former varsity coach Doug Stouffer.

The assistant varsity coach this fall is Rob Butterfield.

Senior leadership should be a plus for Hailey. There are seven seniors including co-captains Ashley Mardian (D/MF) and Gina Thomas (D/MF). Also on the 18-player varsity are four juniors and seven sophomores.

?One of the reasons we went deeper on the roster was that we expect each game to be more of a physical battle at 4A,? said Gvozdas. ?We want to make sure we have enough bodies to go. We hope to have a lot of strength coming off the bench.?

Many of the younger players competed on last fall?s Wood River JV team coached by Gvozdas that went 14-0-1 and outscored opponents 72-4. Quite a few toured Europe this summer with Gvozdas and Butterfield on the Sawtooth United Premier squad that competed in the Holland Cup.

Backstopping the defense will be Jessi Pieschl, a senior goalkeeper who played midfield for Wood River last fall. But she does have experience at the important position, Gvozdas said.

Starters on defense will be two marking backs?Gina Thomas and sophomore Danielle Smith?along with sweeper Katie Jensen, a junior. ?We have a lot of speed in the back,? said Gvozdas.

In fact, Wood River has decent team speed, the coach said, including four good ones across the midfield. They are senior Mardian and three sophomores, Calley Brown, Kacie Femling and Brianna Hull-Mullins.

Wood River will differ from most Idaho girls? soccer programs in that the Hailey squad will use three ?front-runners,? or forwards this season.

They are junior Margii Driscoll (a second-leading 15 goals last fall) on the left, sophomore Kaitlin Gasenica (13 JV goals) in the center and senior Erin McQueen on the right side.

Gvozdas said, ?The three front-runners will allow us to pressure the other team in their defensive third.?

It will be tough to match the school single-season record 30 goals scored by graduating senior Charlotte Gourlay last fall, but the potential is there. ?Mar-gii will be one of our top goal scorers,? Gvozdas said.

Rounding out the Hailey varsity roster are seniors Ireland King (MF/F), Hilary Field (MF/F) and Danielle Donovan (GK/D); juniors Nicole Schulz (MF/F) and Laura Speck (D/MF); and sophomores Ellen Ard (GK/F) and Tara Cappel (MF/F).

Wood River?s 14-game schedule includes two contests against arch-rival Community School, on Aug. 31 in Hailey and Oct. 13 in Sun Valley. The Wol-verines hold a 10-3-5 advantage.

Whether Wood River earns the automatic first-place berth from its Jerome-Burley-Minico-WR league to the State 4A tournament will depend on how it fares in the six home-and-home contests against those teams.

Interestingly, Wood River is 11-0 all-time against Minico and 10-0 against Burley, but the Hailey squad hasn?t played Jerome?s girls. And Wood River hasn?t done well at all against two Pocatello teams it will face.

The true test will come against Century of Pocatello, last year?s state champion over Moscow. Century, twice a 6-0 winner over Wood River last fall, beat three-time defending 4A champion Sandpoint 4-3 in the state semi-finals and then downed Moscow.

Hailey plays at Century Sept. 16 and hosts the Diamondbacks Oct. 2.

Wood River, which won State 3A titles in 2000 and 1995, has a 0-1-1 all-time record in games against Pocatello.

All things considered, Gvozdas? first Wood River team with its depth, speed and playing experience should have a decent shot of playing at the state tour-nament in Boise in October.

Cutthroat girls starting to come together

At the beginning of any season there are plenty of questions facing an athletic team. Community School girls? soccer coach Kelly Feldman thinks she has the answers.

First and foremost: Will the team be able to match the success it experienced last year?

Feldman thinks so.

?Chemistry-wise, it?s like last year. It?s like we never left,? Feldman said.

In 2003, The Community School finished with an 11-4-2 record and was 6-1-1 on the road. The Cutthroats reeled in third place at the State 3A girls? soc-cer tournament. Their only defeat was a gritty 1-0 loss to eventual champion American Falls in the second round.

That spurs the second major question: How will you replace the scoring and leadership of key graduates Morgan Arritola and Jenny Rutherford?

Arritola, who played every game like it was her last, and Rutherford, a quiet force with rock-solid skills, were the rare two-way players, dangerous on both offense and defense. The pair led the ?Throats with 21 of the team?s 39 goals.

Feldman said about this year?s team, ?The leadership is there. Seniors Lexie Praggastis, Cassidy Doucette and Gussi Ochi stepped up on day one and to-tally took charge.

?As far as replacing Morgan on the field and Jenny, we are trying to find where everybody fits and how the team is going to gel. Sometimes when you have a superstar like Morgan, you don?t get the most out of all your other players.

?What I hope is we will come together even better as a team and share that load.?

Next best on the scoring list last fall was Cassidy Doucette with eight goals.

This year, senior striker Doucette will be joined on the front line by juniors Cristina Walsworth and Corinna Pidgeon and sophomore Sara Berman (3 goals last year).

In Feldman?s 3-5-2 alignment, midfielders play a major role with the crucial spot being center offensive midfield.

Senior Lexie Praggastis and sophomore Ross Mills could fit the bill. Defensive mids include returning starters Ochi and junior Caitlin Enright. Others tabbed for halfback are junior Rian Ervin, sophomores Krista Detwiler and Gabby Sisson, a transfer from Wood River.

The Cutthroats have a solid defense with returning players, junior McKenna Peterson, and sophomores Katie Rothgeb and Sarah Adicoff. Junior Devyn Parnes will also play defense.

Sophomore Oey Parker gives Feldman the luxury of an experienced starter in goal. Parker allowed only four goals in last year?s state tournament.

?Oey is a little older and a little more confident,? Feldman said. ?I expect her to do a good job for us back there.?

Freshmen players are Emily Eshman, Cody Curran, Jessie Curran, Hannah Hennessy, and Chloe Lynn.

Coach Feldman?s said the team?s goal this season is ?to go to state and do better.? She added, ?We would like to play in the finals this year.?

With Wood River moving up to the 4A division, that leaves Sun Valley, Buhl, Wendell and Declo to fight it out for the 1.5 berths in the State 3A tournament. The district winner automatically goes to state in Boise, but the second-place team must win a playoff game.

?We have a long way to go as far as putting it together, but we are off to a strong start,? Feldman said.

Team captains are its three seniors?Doucette, Pragasstis and Ochi. There are also five juniors and 10 sophomores.

?They do an excellent job of working together,? Feldman said about the senior leaders.

Joining Feldman on the sidelines this season is assistant coach Carolina Stevens.

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