The challenges of a 15-game regular season and returning to the State 4A tournament after a one-year absence are the kind of challenges that first-year Wood River High School boys' soccer head coach Matt Phillips feels are right up his alley.
"I'm very enthusiastic about the season," Phillips said. "It's a goal of mine to carry on the winning Wood River tradition and develop teams that will contend for a state championship each year. I'm also focused on player development, skills, athleticism and good citizenship."
The Wood River team, which finished last season at 5-11-1, missed qualifying for the state soccer tournament in 2006 for the first time in nine years. The young Wolverines endured their first losing season in that nine-year span. They scored 27 goals and allowed 47.
Phillips, the fifth head coach since the Wood River program began in 1986, is facing a highly competitive and busy schedule. Starting today, the team plays three games in four days against very tough teams.
"We're looking at a tough schedule that includes much tougher non-league games early on to get our program as much competition as possible," he said. "We're trying to create good soccer in doing that."
And you really can't get more challenging than playing 2005 State 4A champion Skyview of Nampa and the Burley Bobcats on the road on the first weekend of the 2007 season. Wood River visits Skyview this Saturday and goes to Burley on Monday.
Skyview, outscoring opponents 94-13 last year, graduated eight seniors from the 2006 squad that carried a 21-0-0 record into the state championship game in Boise, where late-blooming Sandpoint (11-9-2) upset Skyview 1-0. It was Sandpoint's fifth state boys' championship in seven years.
Eventual state third-place finisher Burley (20-1-0) boasted 19 straight wins and 14 shutouts before losing to Sandpoint 3-2 (OT) in the 2006 state semi-finals. Coach Wes Nyblade's Burley team graduated seven seniors, including 100-goal career scorer Eduardo Anguiano, from a program that has won four straight Great Basin Conference championships.
"Burley lost at least four high-powered seniors, but they will continue to be strong," Phillips said. "We can count on other teams in our league continuing to improve, so we have to continue to push it and step it up."
Certainly Wood River will have its hands full in its Great Basin West with Burley and improving squads in Jerome and Minico. Jerome, for example, had never beaten Wood River in 11 games but captured the last three meetings last fall by 2-0, 3-2 and 1-0 scores.
But Phillips is delighted to have welcomed 55 players to pre-season tryouts. He didn't like making cuts but he had to trim the team down to 19 varsity players and 20 on the junior varsity squad.
"We shouldn't be cutting kids," he said. "With that number trying out we could have easily had a C or freshman team. This is a soccer valley. My push is trying to add another team. We can find games for these kids. I'd like to make them lifelong soccer fanatics."
This year's players
Coach Phillips is knowledgeable about the Wolverines because he coached the junior varsity the past three years. He intends to match the varsity's system of play to the players he has—rather than make kids conform to his preconceived plans.
He lost only two seniors, "Best Attacker" Teton Brown and "Best Defender" Ben Gourlay.
Ross Parsons, who was last year's Most Valuable Player and Most Inspirational award winner, is one of five incoming Wolverine seniors along with returnees Charles Knight, Axel Peterson, Erwin Roman and starting defender Kyle Rose.
Juniors include Zac Bjorkman, Spencer Fullmer, Austin Moses, Kyler VanDyck, David Dredge and California newcomer Clayton Jenson.
The coaching staff has a slew of lower classmen, including eight varsity sophomores—Colter Brehmer, Austin Cruz, defender Cody Phelps, Morgan Pike, Danny Sundali, Hector Lopez, Raul Salinas and defender Latner Straley. Brehmer and Lopez are vying for the starting goalkeeper position.
Phillips said he expects big things on offense from Parsons and Pike. "I'm excited about the scoring potential from Ross and Morgan."
Freshmen include Chris De La Cruz and Bruce Lopez.
"There is decent amount of speed on the team and a lot of enthusiasm to be on the field and playing." Phillips said. "That excites me."
Before coaching the Wood River JV team the past three years, Phillips, 38, coached boys' soccer for 10 years at the private Kent School in Denver, Colo. He played four years of collegiate soccer at the University of Denver and was captain there in 1990 and 1991 as a junior and senior.
A graduate of Lakewood High School in Lakewood, Colo., Phillips is entering his second year as a chemistry/physical science teacher at Wood River. He and his wife Calysta have a one-year-old daughter named Isabelle.
The new coach is proud of having obtained in January his national Premier diploma—highest level of coaching certification—from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
Phillips is also proud of his coaching staff that includes former Sonoma State, Calif., collegiate soccer player Luis Monjaras and North Carolina native Trey Knox, who played college soccer at Eastern Carolina.
Junior varsity head coach Monjaras is now a full-time English-as-a-second-language teacher at Hailey's Woodside Elementary School. Knox, who has played for the local Lefty's Bar & Grill team, has coached with the Sawtooth United youth program in the valley.
"Luis is great with the kids and is helping out with the Latino population that the Wood River boys' soccer program hasn't really tapped into," Phillips said. "I'm thrilled to make a new connection with that part of the community. And Trey is one heckuva defender and will contribute greatly in that area. I feel privileged to have both of them."
2007 WRHS Boys Soccer Schedule
Game schedule for the 2007 Wood River boys' soccer teams. Slated are 15 regular-season varsity games—7 home and 8 away. Home varsity games at South Valley Sports Complex in Hailey are listed in bold (general admission $5). The 6 varsity Great Basin West league games (against Jerome, Minico and Burley) are denoted by an asterisk (*). The 16 JV games are listed, too. Game times are varsity first, with junior varsity to follow. The Great Basin Conference includes 7 teams—WR, Jerome, Burley, Minico, Pocatello, Century and Preston.
DATE, DAY OPPONENT LOCATION
Aug. 17, Friday Highland (V/JV) Home, 4:30/6:00
Aug. 18, Saturday Skyview (V/JV) Nampa, 12:00/2:00
Aug. 20, Monday Burley (V/JV)* Away, 4:30/6:00
Aug. 25, Saturday Hillcrest (V/JV) Home, 11:00/1:00
Aug. 27, Monday Highland (V/JV)* Pocatello, 4:30/6:00
Aug. 29, Wednesday Century of Pocatello (V/JV) Home, 4:30/6:00
Sept. 5, Wednesday Jerome (V/JV)* Home, 4:30/6:00
Sept. 8, Saturday McCall/Moscow (V/JV) McCall, 9:00/1:00
Sept. 10, Monday Pocatello (V/JV) Away, 4:30/6:00
Sept. 12, Wednesday Burley (V/JV)* Home, 4:30/6:00
Sept. 14, Friday Community School (JV) Home, 5:30
Sept. 17, Monday Minico (V/JV)* Home, 4:30/6:00
Sept. 19, Wednesday Community School (JV) Sun Valley, 6:00
Sept. 22, Saturday Community School (V) Home, 1:00
Sept. 24, Monday Jerome (V/JV)* Away, 4:00/5:30
Sept. 29, Saturday Minico (V/JV)* Rupert, 10:00
Oct. 4, Thursday District 4A (high seed hosts) TBA
Oct. 6, Saturday District 4A championship (high seed hosts) TBA
Oct. 9, Tuesday District 4A runner-up game TBA
Oct. 11, Thursday Great Basin playoffs (4A-5A, 4B-5B) TBA
Oct. 13, Saturday State play-in game (4C vs. 5C-6B) Highland, 2:00
Oct. 18, Thursday State 4A tournament Pocatello
Oct. 20, Saturday State 4A championship Pocatello
NOTE—Tie games after 80 minutes are generally resolved with two sudden-death 10-minute overtime periods followed by five players in alternating penalty kicks shootout, and finally a sudden victory shootout for five different players.....In soccer, the 4A classification includes schools with 640-1279 student populations for grades 9-12......The Great Basin Conference West 4th District (WR, Jerome, Burley, Minico) gets 1.25 berths in the 2007 State 4A tournament—meaning the league champion automatically goes to state, while the runner-up team must win two playoff games against eastern Idaho teams to advance.... The league tournament is high seed hosts, match-ups #1 vs. #4 and #2 vs. #3.....This year's league tournament is single elimination with consolation bracket compared to last year's double elimination.....Tiebreakers in the event of ties in the District 4 league go to overall record and then to common records against Great Basin Conference opponents.....The winners of the Great Basin West 4th District and Great Basin East 5th District (Century, Pocatello, Preston) clash for the conference championship and state tournament seeding Thursday, Oct. 11.....The location of the Oct. 13 state play-in game is Highland High School in Pocatello.....In opening-round state match-ups at Pocatello, the Great Basin champion (Districts 4/5 A) plays the 3rd District (Boise area) third-place team. The Great Basin runner-up (Districts 4/5 B) meets the 6th District champion in the first round, while the winner of the 4C vs. 5C-6B playoff plays the 3rd District (Boise area) champion.