It has been a tough couple of years for the Wood River High School varsity boys' soccer team. After qualifying for the state championships nine consecutive seasons, the team had a losing record in 2006-07 and 2007-08. It finished the 2007-08 season with an overall record of 3-9-2 and a conference record of 1-4-1.
At the start of last season, head coach Matt Phillips said he wanted to carry on the winning Wood River tradition and develop a team that will contend for a state championship each year. This season, he seems more focused on making sure the players have fun, learn skills and play together as a team.
It's the players' attitudes, not necessarily their soccer skills, that makes Phillips excited.
"This is the best group of kids we have had to work with," he said. "Motivationally they are incredible. They show up early and they stay late."
This year 38 kids tried out for the team. Last year 60 kids tried out. Of the 38 contenders, 16 made the varsity team. Of the 16 players there are five seniors, six juniors, five sophomores and no juniors.
Phillips is particularly excited about two sophomores, Chris DeLaCruz, a midfielder, and Bryan Donoso, a forward. Phillips said both are just talented players with good skills, good speed and a good knowledge of the game.
He is also quick to name the five seniors: David Dredge, Tyler VanDyck, Austin Moses, John Leavell and Spencer Fullmer. For Phillips what makes them stars is not necessarily their soccer skills, but their leadership and positive attitude.
"All five of them are good friends and good people," he said. "They look out for one another and their teammates."
In Phillips' mind, a supportive, connected team means much more than having a bunch of individual stars on the field.
"I think that cohesive gel will really help us out all through the season," he said.
This Saturday, the varsity team takes on Skyview, a team ranked second in the state last year. Last year, Wood River lost to Skyview 6-0. This year, Phillips hopes to hold Skyview to just two goals.
"We are going to try to learn as much as we can," he said. "We don't expect to win. Sure, we would love to win, but we want to just keep the goals down."
Phillips is quick to point out that this goal did not come from him, but the seniors.
"I think it has a lot to do with the seniors," Phillips said. "They just want to have a good season with good leadership. The drive for these guys is not to win but to have a good season and that looks different to them than just winning every game."
However, Phillips conceded the team wouldn't mind beating The Community School.
"It's a huge rivalry," he said.