Wednesday, September 13, 2006

True grit

Wood River outlasts McCall

Express Staff Writer

Erwin Roman gets a leg up on his Middleton opponent in Hailey Saturday. The Vikings won the game, 4-0. Photo by David N. Seelig


The word more than sums up the effort put forth by the Wood River boys' soccer team against McCall-Donnelly in Hailey Saturday.

The 5-4 victory wasn't pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but even a novice soccer fan could find the beauty in the Wolverines never-say-die effort.

A very young team with only five seniors and handful of returning starters, Wood River (4-2-1) is working hard to find the right combinations and chemistry on the field.

Up against the 2005 3A-state runner-up and 2004 state champs in McCall-Donnelly (3-3-1), the Wolverines had their work cut out for them and anything less than their best effort would not cut it.

Assistant coach Matt Phillips remarked, "McCall is a formidable opponent. They are well-coached and well put together. They know what they want to do with the ball."

Much the same boat as the Wolverines are in despite recent and reoccurring success, Vandals coach Mike Marni is sorting out a young squad, which at times struggles to find its equilibrium on the field.

"We make critical errors other teams are capitalizing on," Marni said. "Defensively, we're showing a lot of flaws. We made five mistakes in the game and each one cost us a goal."

Senior midfielder Max Kwok tallied the first goal off a pass by Travis Amick. The second score was by Erwin Roman from Carl Jablonski which made it 2-0 at halftime.

"We were actually looking really strong and confident at that point," Phillips said.

McCall scored early in the second stanza, cutting the Wolverines lead in half, but the Wolverines answered with freshman Morgan Pike tallying the unassisted goal making it 3-1.

The Vandals redoubled their efforts and the momentum and lead swung their way. The Vandals knotted the score and two minutes later went up 4-3 on Todd Fereday's (2 goals) conversion.

"We kind of crumbled," Phillips said. "These guys have struggled with their confidence the entire season, which waxes and wanes throughout an entire game. We had to reevaluate what was happening on the field and make some serious adjustments."

According to Phillips, he pulled a few key players off the field for some pointed chats, which boiled down to put up or hush up.

Phillips recalled, "Basically, a lot of them talk a good game, but you have to dig down. I asked them, 'How badly do you really want it'?"

The answer: Really bad.

Getting a superb effort from central fullback Ruben Hinojo, who tracked down every loose ball like it had his name on it, the Wolverines stemmed McCall's attack while stepping up their own.

Pike, a formidable freshman forward/midfielder, was pulled down in the box and his ensuing penalty kick would have tied it, if not for a quality diving save by goalie Colin Benim-Blarin.

McCall dodged another bullet when a goal (which first banged off the side post) was called back for offsides.

"We got lucky," Maini said on the sideline.

But McCall's luck could not withstand the Wolverine's pluck.

Kwok, Pike and Teton Brown all had legitimate shots on net, and the Wolverines pulled even when Pike fed Kwok and he beat both his defenders to bury a left-footed shot.

They weren't finished.

Awarded a penalty kick with the game on the line, Carl Jablonski showed no nerves, stroking it far left for a 5-4 advantage.

"It would take a Brink's truck to rattle Jablonski," Phillips observed.

With only a few minutes left, the game was far from over. McCall went full-tilt offense, forcing three consecutive corner kicks. On the third try, Devon Kessler (2 goals) had an open shot but Hinojo got a foot on the ball and cleared it out of the box.

"We kept giving it back to them and we were biting our fingernails," Phillips said.

They must have been down to the quick by the time the final whistle blew on the Wolverine's second win of the season.

Phillips remarked, "It was really something to be able to beat that team. Every kid on the sideline was saying that was the toughest game of the year."

Banged up and plenty tired, the Wolverines had little juice left for defending 3A State champion Middleton later that afternoon.

(Coincidentally, Middleton outasted McCall in last year's state final, winning on penalty kicks after double overtime.)

"We were exhausted from the first game," midfielder Axel Peterson said. (And no one knows tired more than a hardworking halfback.)

Riding a four-game win streak, the Vikings (5-0-1) rolled Wood River 4-0.

"We could not stir any fight to keep up with them," Phillips said.

It was, perhaps, an unfitting end to a series in which the Wolverines collected their first win, first shutout and first comeback.

On Thursday, Wood River notched its first victory and first shutout of the season against Jerome, blanking the Tigers 2-0 in a Great Basin Conference West clash.

"It was a big boost for us and good to see them step up," coach Farrell Swain said.

Kwok converted a breakout pass by Erwin Roman for a 1-0 advantage at the eight-minute mark.

"Max is such a good leader. His leadership demands that he is on the field," Swain said.

Freshman Morgan Pike notched his first-ever varsity goal tracking down a long ball by Roman to score.

"During warmups I said, 'who is going to be the first underclassmen to score,' and Morgan's hand shot up first," Swain said.

Another ninth grader, goalie Colter Brehmer played an important role in the victory, backstopping the Wolverines first shutout of the season.

"He did a good job," Swain remarked.

After hosting Pocatello on Tuesday, the Wolverines travel to Burley Thursday and Middleton for a rematch on Saturday.

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