"It's the tournament that counts," said 15th-year Community School boys' varsity soccer coach Richard Whitelaw, who enters the 2006 campaign with high expectations that the Cutthroats can continue to improve.
The idea of improving for Sun Valley's state-seasoned boys' soccer program means making the trip to the State 3A tournament in October and winning the team's first game at state. From that point, anyone has a chance to win a tournament trophy.
Whitelaw's extremely young team was right there last October, at state after its thrilling 3-2 overtime district championship game win over top-seeded Bliss. But Sun Valley was a little overwhelmed in its state losses to third-place Snake River and consolation winner Bonners Ferry.
"Getting to state is all well and good and then I guess the kids suddenly realized they were there. It was healthy for us though. The boys know what to expect. And if we can make it to state, let's win our first game," said Whitelaw (159-67-18, 17-11 in his state tourney trips).
Soccer lifer Whitelaw will be coaching his 250th varsity game in early September, quite an accomplishment by anyone's standards, and if there's one thing you'll hear him say about his current crop of Cutthroats, it's this: "I like this team."
That could spell trouble for the rest of the Fourth District 3A ranks including usual challengers, Bliss and Buhl, along with long shots Declo, Wendell and Filer. The top two qualify for the eight-team State 3A tournament Oct. 19-21 in Meridian.
For one thing, Whitelaw along with assistant coach Jason Lynch and coach emeritus Bob Brock have welcomed seven seniors and eight juniors in the 27-player program—just the opposite from last fall when the bulk of the players were in the freshman and sophomore classes.
Having the services of senior Regan O'Reilly as goalkeeper is a big plus, since O'Reilly was injured for a good part of last season. And four of the seven seniors are returning varsity players—O'Reilly, captain Ryon Campbell (D), Alden Remington (MF) and Caleb Sonneland (MF).
Sonneland, Remington and junior Connor Brown are "three solid midfielders who can all score," Whitelaw said, but their main job will be trying to get the ball up front to two skilled and promising strikers.
They are junior Travis Stone (14 goals last year, 21 career) and freshman Tanner Flanigan. "Travis and Tanner can run through teams," said Whitelaw. Stone's speed and goal scoring ability have been established in two varsity seasons. As for Flanigan, Whitelaw didn't hesitate for a moment promoting him to varsity.
"Straight to the front, why wait?," is how Whitelaw described putting Flanigan immediately at the important forward post. "He has the speed and skills and knows where the goal is. And he's had two decent older brothers (Bobby, Wes) to emulate."
Of course the Cutthroats graduated top scorer Wes Flanigan (18 goals) from last fall's 9-9-2 squad that scored 52 goals in 20 games. But The Community School's defense allowed 47 goals last fall. Whitelaw hopes the Cutthroat curtain will be better drawn on opposition attacks.
The middle of the defense is extremely solid with captain Campbell as sweeper and sophomore Alex Conn as stopper. As Whitelaw can see elsewhere in the lineup, the middle of the field is experienced and solid. Now he's looking for flanks.
Junior midfielders Jeff Gaecke and Max Harris could bolster the wings, or freshman Jackson Bates could be another of the six ninth-graders to step right in. Whitelaw is seeking two fullbacks on defense. Junior Mac Whittington and freshman Bergen Palmer could fill the bill. He is hoping that sophomore midfielders Eddy Albarran and Lucas Vorsteveld can someday crack the starting lineup.
Rounding out the Cutthroat roster are seniors Chase Englehart, Brendan Nelson and Sid Parkhill; juniors Wiley Chubb, Rafael Pena and McClain Porter; sophomores Luke Anderson, Taylor Riviello and Reed Stokes; freshmen Wyatt Bunce, Nick Crosby and Bob Mollineaux.
Another plus for the Cutthroats this fall is that nine of the 15 games will be played on their Browning Field home pitch, where the team has been very successful in the past. "It's a bit of a fortress," Whitelaw said.
This could also be the year The Community School plays tougher against 4A rival Wood River. The Wolverines have won five straight encounters over the Cutthroats and now have a 31-18-3 advantage in the 52-game series dating back to 1983.
While Wood River is nearly unbeatable at home (18-4-2 including last year's 5-1 win), the Hailey boys are vulnerable playing on the Cutthroat pitch where the Sun Valley boys enjoy a 12-11-1 advantage.
Either way, when the two teams face off in soccer, now once a season, Whitelaw said, "It's good for everyone to see how much talent there is between the two teams out there."