They're young and they will be tested early, but 2006 Wood River High School boys' varsity soccer players have every reason to believe they'll extend the Wolverine soccer success story of the past decade—nine straight winning seasons and nine trips to state soccer.
"We lost a little bit of leadership and we're a young team," said coach Farrell Swain. "But we're fit and strong and it's a tight knit group. Our schedule will be a test for us but hopefully we'll rise to the occasion. Our goal is to win the conference and get back to state."
Swain and Wood River are adjusting to the loss of 13 seniors from last fall's 14-7-1 squad that made an amazing back-door, penalty kick shootout run to the State 4A tournament and won its first-ever state game in the tougher 4A classification.
The Wolverines graduated their top midfielder in Austin McCann (27 career goals, #9 all time), but McCann's knee injury last fall restricted his playing time. Carl Jablonski (13 goals, 24 career) ended up as the team's top scorer and he will return as a senior in 2006.
Jablonski (F) is one of five seniors for Swain. Others are Travis Amick (F/MF), Max Kwok (MF), Ben Gourlay (sweeper) and Teton Brown. Swain said, "Carl has been first-team All Conference for two years. We're hoping he'll pop a few for us this year. The seniors are showing leadership and knowledge of the game."
Third-year varsity coach Swain (29-10-2) is entering her fifth year with the Wood River boys' program. Once again her junior varsity coach is Matt Phillips, and they have welcomed what Swain called a good showing of 46 players.
Juniors Ross Parsons (MF) and Axel Peterson (MF) are two of only six returning varsity players for Wood River. They'll need to step up for the Wolverines to succeed, Swain said.
Something of a question mark because of youth is the defense, Wood River's hallmark during its state championship seasons of 1998, 1999 and 2003. The first-year varsity goalkeeper is Austin Moses, a tall, athletic sophomore who can play anywhere on the field.
The hustle of junior defender Kyle Rose should be a big plus. Sophomore defender Kyler VanDyck has excellent ball skills, Swain said. Other defenders include freshmen Danny Sundali and Cody Phelps. Freshman Morgan Pike is a big, strong center midfielder with amazing skills, too.
Rounding out the varsity are junior Erwin Roman (F), junior Charles Knight (MF) and freshman Colter Brehmer (GK).
Swain, looking at the teams in the Great Basin Conference West, said defending champion Burley (18-3-1, third at state) will be "as strong as ever." Burley, led by high-scoring junior Eduardo Anguiano, nipped Wood River 2-1 (3-0 penalty kicks) in the league title game that sent the winner to state.
The Minico Spartans gave the Wolverines two really tough games last season but Minico lost 11 important seniors to graduation.
Added to the Wolverine schedule is last year's State 3A champion Middleton, having moved up to 4A in 2006. The Vikings had 10 seniors last fall. Hillcrest of Idaho Falls is another addition. Wood River beat Hillcrest 2-0 in the final state play-in game last October.
Wood River opens its 14-game campaign Saturday, Aug. 19 with a 7 p.m. varsity game under the lights at Phil Homer Field in Hailey. Host Twin Falls whipped Hailey 3-1 in last year's opener. The 5A Bruins, perennial state tournament contenders, have won six of the last eight meetings between the two teams and are 20-12-6 in the series dating back to 1986.