Wednesday, October 18, 2006

High-scoring soccer teams will rely on defense at state

Express Staff Writer

Senior midfielder Caleb Sonneland, getting the inside track Saturday during the state play-in game against the Filer Wildcats, has revved up the Cutthroat attack all season by getting to the ball first. Photo by David N. Seelig

Three high-scoring Blaine County soccer teams are headed to the State 4A and 3A prep tournaments sponsored by the Idaho High School Activities Association Oct. 19-21 at Capital Soccer Complex in Meridian. They've been scoring plenty of goals—257 among the three teams—but before it's all over Saturday the Wood River High School and Community School teams may find defense is what does it for them.

Coach Kelly Feldman's Community School Cutthroat girls are the highest-scoring team in school history with 72 goals in 13 games. Coach Richard Whitelaw's Cutthroat boys have scored more goals (104 in 18 games) than all but two teams in school annals. Coach Greg Gvozdas' once-beaten Wood River girls' squad (81 goals) is the fourth-highest scoring team that has come down the Hailey pike.

Scoring is all about finishing your chances, but the valley teams will get fewer scoring chances as the competition heats up at state this weekend. Keep in mind that the final scores of last year's State 4A and 3A championship games were 2-1, 2-0, 2-1 and 2-1. At state, it gets more physical. Forwards and midfielders will have more responsibilities for checking back to help out the defense. Defenders will be constantly challenged. And goalkeepers will be tested often.

Probably the best local example of what defense can accomplish at state happened in 1998, at Nampa, when the Wood River High School boys allowed only one goal in three preliminary games and went up against a high-powered Weiser squad in the championship. Weiser applied relentless pressure and had an overwhelming advantage in corner kicks, but Hailey keeper Charlie Askew rose to the occasion and stopped everything thrown into the box. Final score was 0-0 and it went to penalty kicks, where the Wolverines took advantage of a weaker Weiser keeper and won 4-1. For the season, the state champion Wolverines scored 34 goals in 15 games.

All 48 of the state soccer boys' and girls' teams in three divisions have enjoyed excellent fall campaigns, but the teams that make the strongest commitment to defense will probably end up in Saturday's ultimate championship game.

WRHS girls draw Bishop Kelly at state

Smooth sailing was the navigational chart for the Wood River High School girls' varsity soccer team before last Thursday's Great Basin Conference championship game against Century in Hailey.

That's when Wood River hit some speed bumps.

First of all, the Century Diamondbacks decided to show why they have won two of the last three State 4A girls' soccer tournament championships. Playing its usual physical brand of soccer, Century (15-3) handed Wood River (16-1-1) its first loss of the season 1-0.

The loss didn't sidetrack Wood River in its objective of returning to the state soccer tournament for a 12th straight year. In a game played for bragging rights and state tourney seeding, it did give Wood River a tougher draw at state.

Wood River will open the State 4A tournament Thursday, Oct. 19 in Meridian against Bishop Kelly of Boise (17-2), the unbeaten Third District champion and 3-1 winners over Skyview of Nampa in the district title game last Thursday.

Century opens its state quest against Skyview (16-3).

It's tough enough for Wood River getting presumably the toughest draw in the eight-team tourney, but the Wolverines will have to play the entire state meet without speedy sophomore striker Sam Johnson (15 goals season, 30 career), generally considered the player who makes their attack go.

Johnson broke her collarbone falling forward after a hard slide tackle by a Century defender eight minutes into the second half Thursday, with the game still scoreless.

The officials didn't issue either a yellow or red card as Johnson lay writhing in pain on the field near sideline spectators. Wood River fans close to the play felt that the contact was deserving of some penalty.

Johnson, Wood River's best player at state last year, will be sidelined for about a month.

Up until that point, Century had taken the midfield away from Wood River and excelled on defense against the high-scoring Wolverines. Diamondback senior keeper Megan Sorenson (4 saves) had stopped two good chances by Johnson in the first half and one each by Delaney Fox and Elsa Sweek.

Unsettled by Johnson's injury, Wood River went into retreat. The Wolverines reacted instead of attacking and were out-shot by Century 12-2 in the second half, and 17-7 for the game. It was uncharacteristic of Wood River, but Century kept clogging the passing lanes.

Hailey junior goalkeeper Caiti Leo (22 saves) kept her team in the game with fine saves as strong-footed Century senior flanker Hope Powell kept pounding long shot after long shot toward the Hailey goal in hopes of one slipping in.

Finally, one long ball found the back of the Wood River net at the 57-minute mark. That was all Century's defense of seniors Genessa Neeser, Katie Fowler and sophomore Shailee Smith seemed to need.

Despite the adversity, Wood River pressed on. On the final play of the game sophomore Aimee Evans lofted a 35-yard free kick that dropped into keeper Sorenson's hands beyond the goal line, an apparent last-second Wolverine goal that would have forced overtime and possibly a shootout.

There was no question Sorenson caught it behind the goal line. But the officials didn't signal a goal, in essence deciding that the ball never crossed the plane of the goal line and that Sorenson purposely kept the ball out in front of her to stop it from crossing.

It was the second bad break of the game for Wood River, which will need to regroup under more difficult circumstances Thursday in Meridian.

Cutthroat boys, girls aim for state titles

It's all there for the taking for The Community School boys' and girls' varsity soccer teams. A maximum of three games, full focus, total effort and the big trophy is possible.

They're seeking the Sun Valley independent school's first-ever state soccer championships under the banner of the Idaho High School Activities Association Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 19-21 at Capitol Soccer Complex, Meridian.

Do the Cutthroat boys of 15th-year coach Richard Whitelaw (174-69-19) have a legitimate shot? Sure. The second-ranked Cutthroats (15-2-1) took their lumps with a two-and-out at the State 3A meet last year and seem ready to challenge in 2006.

They've come a long way in 12 months. Last year's team was 9-9-2 and outscored opponents 52-47. This year Whitelaw's squad has nearly doubled its win total. And it has doubled the scoring output—putting up 104 goals and allowing a stingy 16 on defense.

Whitelaw said, "At the state tournament you have to win your first game. You have to be focused from the start. You get one chance."

How about the Cutthroat girls of fifth-year coach Kelly Feldman (44-25-6)? They are making a fifth consecutive state tournament trip. The second-ranked Cutthroats (9-2-2) have scored the most goals in school history (72) while challenging for the school's best defensive mark (18).

Rather than one big scorer like Langely McNeal or Cassidy Doucette, they've got a team of scorers—seven girls with five goals or more led by junior Cody Curran (15). The Cutthroats seem ready to break through after going 6-13 in their previous state soccer trips.

Best of all, Payette isn't in this year's State 3A girls' tournament, a major relief. In 2004 the Cutthroats lost their first game 7-1 to Payette and last year, they fell in the semi-final to the eventual state champions from Payette by a 3-0 score.

Never before have the Cutthroat girls won a state soccer championship, doing their best with a third place in 2003 on the Buhl pitch. In contrast the Cutthroat boys have won state four times under the old Idaho Youth Soccer Association sanctioning system—in 1999, 1992 and 1986 and once in the 1970s.

That's all history, though. This year's teams want to make some.

Feldman's girls, district champions for a third straight year, didn't get the best first-round draw because they're playing Fifth District champion Marsh Valley of Arimo (15-0-3). Marsh Valley boasts two ties this fall with top-ranked Teton (15-0-5).

In the opposite bracket is Teton, still smarting from its 1-0 penalty kick shootout loss to two-time state champ American Falls in last year's state semi-final. If the Cutthroats get past Marsh Valley, they could see Teton in the final.

And seeing good girls from unfamiliar places is nothing new for many of the Cutthroat players, who gained confidence competing in last summer's Gothia Cup and Dana Cup in Sweden and Denmark.

Whitelaw's boys are ready to go for the gold.

The scoring has always been there. Junior Travis Stone (31 goals, 52 career) has climbed the fish ladder to come within range of Josh Stanek (94), Sean Higgins (76) and Benji Hill (75) on the all-time Sun Valley list. Stone is joined by Caleb Sonneland (16), Tanner Flanigan (13), Alden Remington (10) and a host of Cutthroat snipers.

Some question marks might be the lopsided number of games the Cutthroats have played at home (13 of 18 this fall) and their young defense with two freshmen and sophomore Alex Conn joining senior Ryon Campbell.

But you can argue the Cutthroat boys have a better first-round draw than the girls simply because they've played Third District champion McCall-Donnelly (10-6-3) before this season, beating the Vandals 3-2 on two goals by Stone and one by Campbell Sept. 9 at Browning Field.

Don't forget McCall has some impressive history as well. The Vandals dropped a thrilling penalty kick shootout to Middleton in last year's State 3A championship game, and McCall also won the 2004 state title.

"McCall has speed and fitness," said Whitelaw, 17-11 in his state tourney trips. "I expect them to be a lot better than when we saw them."

After their 2-1 Fourth District championship loss at top-ranked Bliss (14-0-1) last Wednesday, the Cutthroats had to turn around Saturday and qualify for the state tournament by beating #6-seeded Filer 7-0 on Browning Field.

Flanigan and Sonneland tallied goals in the first three minutes, then Stone added two more for a 4-0 halftime cushion. In the second half, Si Park delivered a pretty header, from Flanigan, and Remington scored from the middle of the field. Eddy Albarran rounded out the scoring.

It was the seventh shutout of the season for the Cutthroats, who wouldn't mind a couple more at state. If they win twice, they could meet Bliss in the state finale Saturday. Bliss opens with Aberdeen (9-5-1).

But the post-season can be a graveyard for highly regarded teams. Just ask the American Falls boys, first-round conquerors of Bliss last year at state and semi-final 2-1 losers to state champion Middleton.

American Falls is staying home this year because the Beavers lost 3-2 to Aberdeen in last week's Fifth District tournament and then fell 2-1 to Sugar-Salem of Sugar City Saturday in a state play-in game. American Falls out-shot the Diggers 25-12 and had a big edge in corners. But Sugar-Salem will be making its first-ever state visit, playing last year's consolation king Bonners Ferry Thursday.

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