Make no mistake, the Wood River High School girls' varsity soccer team has one objective for its 14-game regular-season that begins Saturday in Twin Falls. The Hailey girls want to battle hard and improve each week and finally end up in the State 4A championship game.
That's the view of third-year head coach Greg Gvozdas (32-6-3), who has continued Wood River's record of success on the soccer pitch. Wood River teams are 158-43-21 over 14 fall seasons with two state championships and are 46-6-4 in Gvozdas' time as JV and varsity coach.
Gvozdas, blessed with eight seniors and tons of returning experience, said about his seniors, "This is the class that was undefeated as freshmen and did well enough as sophomores to be ranked nationally in the Far West. They've progressed one step every year. They would like to finish by getting to the state championship game. And I think that's a realistic expectation for us."
When you think about it, that's an amazing objective—seeing that Wood River graduated its all-time leading scorer in Margii Driscoll, the two-time Great Basin Conference West "Player of the Year," who set the school's single-season record of 43 goals in 22 games last year. She ended her career with 81 goals.
Although Driscoll provided 37% of Wood River's scoring in the program's first two seasons at the tougher 4A level, Gvozdas likes the make-up of his current 18-player varsity. In all, Gvozdas and assistant coaches Rob Butterfield and Doug Stouffer welcomed 30 players.
That's a bigger turnout than last fall, when Gvozdas had to throw several talented freshmen into the mix right away. He said, "The younger players gained experience that put us in good position for this year. We have a lot of goal scorers—a little more experience in the back (defense), and some fresh legs and younger players up front," he said.
Wood River's two offensive leaders, both sophomores, are its second- and third-leading scorers from 2005. They are Sam Johnson (15 goals) and Aimee Evans (10). They should score enough to keep Wood River's overwhelming offensive superiority during Gvozdas' three seasons. His teams have outscored foes 247-39.
Led by seniors Calley Brown (D/MF), Danielle Smith (D) and Kacie Femling (D/MF), the defense will be very stingy. The other seniors, all veterans, are Kaitlin Gasenica (MF), Brianna Hull-Mullins (MF), Ellen Ard (F/GK), Tara Cappel (F) and Alexa Turzian (F).
Cappel is returning after a year studying abroad and Smith is back after a one-year layoff due to knee surgery. Femling was voted the team's top defender during last fall's 15-5-2 campaign that ended with a fourth place in the State 4A tourney.
The four juniors include three second-team All-Conference picks—Michelle McMurdo (D), Caiti Leo (GK) and Kallie Skahill (D)—plus valuable reserve Hannah Fuller (F).
Joining Johnson and Evans as an offensive threat will be another speedy sophomore, Delaney Fox (F). Other sophomores are Laura Elgee (D), Elsa Sweek (F) and Makayla Cappel (MF). All told, the team is literally bursting with talent.
Wood River lost three times to State 4A champion Century of Pocatello last fall. Gvozdas expects that Great Basin Conference champ Century and Pocatello will be tough again The Wolverines play Century at home this year, Pocatello away.
He is pleased that the schedule has been upgraded with the addition of Middleton and Hillcrest of Idaho Falls. Middleton, last fall's State 3A consolation champion, has moved up to 4A. Wood River beat Hillcrest 4-2 in its state tournament opener before falling to Lakeland 3-0 and to Pocatello 5-4 in the third-place game.