Numbers of players are lower than last fall, but the Wood River High School girls' varsity soccer team coached by Greg Gvozdas has the same objective—earning a berth in the State 4A soccer tourney.
"Having made the adjustment to 4A last year, we are a little more prepared as to what we need to accomplish to get back to state," said Gvozdas.
Wood River (17-1-1, 10-0 at home) was the most successful of any of the school's athletic teams last fall in the first year of competition at the tougher 4A level. The 2004 Wolverines won the Great Basin Conference tournament and captured the State 4A consolation title.
Only the state runner-up Moscow Bears, a 2-1 winner over Wood River in the opening game at state, stood between the Wolverines and an undefeated season. But the Hailey program (143-38-19 in 13 seasons) has had much success.
Gvozdas, in his second year as head coach, has a 31-1-2 record and 142-8 goals against in his last two seasons as junior varsity and then varsity guide. His varsity in 2005 was the stingiest of all 13 Wolverine girls' soccer teams since 1993, outscoring opponents 70 to 4.
This year, Gvozdas along with assistant coach Rob Butterfield and junior varsity coach Doug Stouffer have welcomed 26 players including three seniors to practices. In contrast, last year's Wolverine team had 19 varsity members alone, including seven seniors.
"Last year we were very strong defensively. This year we won't have as much depth, but we will have a lot of speed and talent up front," said Gvozdas, last year's Great Basin "Co-Coach of the Year."
The speed and scoring ability up front starts with senior Margii Driscoll, the fleet striker who had 22 goals and 5 assists last season and was Great Basin "Player of the Year." Driscoll excelled on an international soccer tour with coach Gvozdas this summer.
Sophomore forward Kaitlyn Farrington and freshman forward Sam Johnson will offer youth, speed and scoring ability to supplement Driscoll's experience, Gvozdas said. Farrington was the JV's top gun scoring 10 goals in 2004.
Defensively, All-Conference sweeper Katie Jensen, a senior, leads the way with sophomore Michelle McMurdo, last year's JV Most Valuable Player. Wood River lost junior Danielle Smith, a strong defender, to a knee injury and will be anxious for her return in 2006.
Gvozdas said, "We'll return a lot of speed in the back with Michelle." Sophomore Kallie Skahill is another defender, and the first-year varsity goalkeeper is sophomore Catie Leo.
"Catie had a very good spring season for Sawtooth United and played ODP as a goalkeeper," said Gvozdas about Leo's off-season improvement. "She may be a little more athletic than some of our previous keepers, and she's got a good amount of experience."
The six juniors, five with varsity experience, lend the midfield a knowledgeable edge. The midfield starts with first-team Great Basin Conference All-Star Kaitlin Gasenica, a superb passer who made the European tour with Driscoll and Gvozdas this past July.
Other midfielders are senior Nicole Schulz; juniors Calley Brown, Kacie Femling, Brianna Hull-Mullins and Alexa Turzian; plus freshman Aimee Evans. Junior Ellen Ard will play forward and back-up goalkeeper this year.
It's a young team with plenty of potential, Gvozdas said. "The seniors we do have will contribute a lot and we think we can make a strong run to the end. And we're setting ourselves up for the next year or two with the young players we have on the team now."
Wood River opens its 16-game season Saturday, Aug. 27 with a rare home nighttime game on the Phil Homer football field in Hailey. The varsity game against Twin Falls starts at 7 p.m. preceded by a 5 p.m. junior varsity contest.
Gvozdas said, "We're always trying to find a time for our games that is more convenient for families to attend."