Intensity and teamwork were the pivotal factors Thursday as the Wood River High School girls' varsity soccer team delivered an early-season message to the defending 4A champs from Century High.
Wood River, staging a first-half clinic of proficient passing and midfield dominance, scored two goals in the first 30 minutes and got a huge insurance goal from Kaitlin Gasenica in the 74th minute for a 3-1 homefield victory over the visitors from Pocatello.
Senior Danielle Smith and sophomore Delaney Fox scored the other two goals for Wood River (3-0-1). Century's top-ranked Diamondbacks (5-1) had started the season quickly with a 4-0 record including 7-0, 17-0, 3-0 and 5-2 wins over Blackfoot, Jerome, Highland of Pocatello and Hillcrest of Idaho Falls.
Hailey senior forward Ellen Ard said, "We played as a team and stayed strong for the whole 80 minutes. We came out and held together and played for each other. We played like we wanted it and deserved it."
The big win snapped a 26-game unbeaten streak for Century, 2-1 winners over Lakeland in last year's State 4A title game. Century (20-0-2 last year) had Wood River's number with three wins in three tries last year including two shutouts.
But this is a year when Wolverine coach Greg Gvozdas has talked about returning to the state tournament and making a bigger impression—bigger than Wood River's two wins and consolation title in 2004, or its fourth-place finish in 2005.
"We've talked about going deeper at state so we know we have to show well against a team like Century during the season," he said. "And Century is a very skilled team, more organized than most teams we play. They play with a lot of confidence and they should, being state champions."
Player by player, Wood River battled for every ball and gave Century all it could handle from Thursday's opening kickoff to the final whistle.
Defender Danielle Smith, who didn't play at all last season because of a knee injury, gave Wood River the early lead it needed with her third career goal. In the 26th minute Smith charged in from the top of the box and buried a corner kick struck by senior Calley Brown.
Strong sophomore Aimee Evans normally starts the game along the right wing, giving opponents fits with her speed and shooting ability, and then switches into the midfield because of Hailey's impressive depth and experience. "We can go deeper than 11 players and don't lose much," said Gvozdas.
The game was 30 minutes old when Evans literally barged through two D'Back defenders and slipped a pass off to Ellen Ard. Ard tapped the ball over to Fox, who had been taking extra shooting practice on her own leading up to the Century game. Fox one-timed the ball into the top corner for a 2-0 Wood River lead.
Gvozdas, referring to Wood River's slick passing and opportune early scoring, said, "Our ability to connect was much better. We also finished the few chances we had. But we've talked a lot about having a strong start and trying to improve in the second half."
Like a true champion, coach Tarragh Car's Century squad came out in the second half and gave Hailey all it could handle. The D'Backs started beating the Wolverines to the ball. They launched some solid shots that just soared a little high over the crossbar and the leap of Wood River goalie Caiti Leo.
There was no secret to getting back in the game for Wood River, still smarting from coughing up a 2-0 half-time lead and settling for a 2-2 tie at home against Hillcrest Aug. 26.
It came down to hard work, and nobody set the tone more than Ard in the front. She fought tooth-and-nail for every ball. Ard's teammates picked up her physical lead—finally pressuring Century's defense.
"We had to absorb what Century gave us and try to deal with it. It took a while, but we finally got the ball up the field," said Gvozdas.
Century made it interesting when junior forward Ashlee Neeser poked home a direct kick off the foot of junior defender Jennie Rasmussen to make it 2-1 in the 65th minute. Once again, Ard's determination up front forced a direct kick outside the D'Back box.
Gasenica, who played a solid game from the get-go, was the player who took the kick for Wood River. Earlier in the day she had an MRI on her right knee that determined she has slightly torn meniscus. It wasn't enough to keep her off the field and that was definitely a good thing for Wood River.
Aiming from an angle, Gasenica cracked a lovely shot that curved high into the back of the net and gave the current sophomores their first taste of victory over Century.
"Kaitlin played well. In fact our whole defense played well, and we got good games out of Ellen (Ard), Delaney (Fox), Brianna (Hull-Mullins), Calley (Brown), Aimee (Evans) and Sam (Johnson)," said Gvozdas. His team is now 19-1-2 at home over three seasons, falling only to Century 3-2 last Sept. 14.
Wood River hosted Jerome Tuesday in a conference game. Middleton and McCall-Donnelly arrive Saturday, Sept. 9 for two girls' games on two Hailey fields—the varsity playing Middleton at 9 a.m. on the football field and McCall at 1 p.m. at South Valley Sports Complex field.
Middleton, last year's State 3A consolation champion, is now in the tougher 4A class and took a 2-0-1 record into its Tuesday game at unbeaten 4A power Bishop Kelly (3-0).