It's hard to say if anyone else is enjoying the twice-daily soccer sessions, but Community School coach Richard Whitelaw is certainly having a good time at practice these days.
"Sheer hilarity," he said. "The boys are absolute comedy. I have heard some pretty good jokes lately."
Of course Whitelaw is the original good-humor man. Nothing puts a smile on the native New Zealander's face quite like the game of soccer, and his team's 15-0-1 regular-season record last year had him positively beaming.
The grin was momentarily erased on the first day of the 3A state soccer tournament, when the Cutthroats lost to Orofino, 4-1—their first and only loss of the season—but returned with two subsequent victories for fourth place out of eight teams and a final mark of 17-1-1. In Whitelaw's 17-year tenure at the helm of the Cutthroats, The Community School has compiled a 193-71-20 record and boasts a state mark of 21-13, twice winning the state title in 1992 and 1999, and finished second to Wood River in 2003.
Poised to surpass the 200-win mark this season, Whitelaw is upbeat about the 2008 edition of the Cutthroats.
"We have excellent team chemistry and the players are all polite and pleasant," Whitelaw noted. "Overall, we don't have a lot of depth, but it's often like this and we've dealt with it the best we can and always been fine."
Creating team chemistry and a cohesive unit on the field is not unlike solving a puzzle that has several different solutions. A big part of the Cutthroats' brainteaser is figuring out who is going to take over the middle of the field, as the team graduated three All-Conference players, striker Travis Stone, center midfielder Connor Brown and defender Mac Whittington, as well as Max Harris.
Stone racked up 34 goals, including five hat tricks, and finished his high school career second on the school's all-time scoring list with 93, one behind the prolific Josh Stanek.
But the good news is that Stone's counterpart in the offensive attack, junior Tanner Flanigan, returns to the front. The fluid Flanigan, who changes direction on a whim and has lethal aim, scored 24 goals, finding the back of the net in 16 out of 19 games, including two of three games at state.
Whitelaw might try pairing classmate Wyatt Bunce up front with Flanigan, noting "they look good together." But he also mused about the possibility of running a 4-5-1 with Flanigan, who certainly has the wheels, up front by himself, which in turn would bolster the midfield, which might need some reinforcement due to lack of experienced players.
"We need that dominant center-mid. We'll have to see who can handle that," Whitelaw said.
Candidates for halfback include junior Bergen Palmer, a cool and poised set-up man who is not afraid to take the shot himself, as well as seniors Eddie Alvaraz, Peter Atkinson and Lucas Vorsteveld, junior Bob Mollineaux, sophomore Anthony Martin and freshman Cassidy Carson.
There's no question that senior Alex Conn, another All-Conference selection, will once again play sweeper. Conn, a rangy fellow who possesses the rare combination of both deft touch and powerful kick, has the height, speed and fearlessness necessary to fill the crucial role. He was also the class of the conference and a major factor in the Cutthroats' 1.6-goals-against per-game average. (The team averaged 4.4 goals on offense.)
Unshakeable and physical, junior Tyler Davis will play outside fullback and the similarly matched Jackson Bates will be on the other side. That is a definite boon to freshman goalie Tom Crosby, who will be filling in for senior Riley Berman, who is out until mid-to-late September with a broken toe.
"He is the first freshman to start in goal since Robert Caron in 1993," Whitelaw said. "But Tom has done all we have asked of him and done it well."
Whitelaw is very enthusiastic about the versatile freshmen class in general, with players Zach Dolenar, Tim Kanellitsas, Christopher Nalen, Eric Runkel, Collin Waycott, Hunter Weaver, Cooper Hanley and Alex Slone.
"The freshmen are excellent. Overall, they are a very strong class," he said.
Sophomores are Eli Albarran, Colby Benz, John Chrysikopoulos, Dane Inman, Dylan Prescott and Will Weston.
Whitelaw and assistant Jason Lynch and coach emeritus Bob Brock will name the varsity and junior varsity squads before today's game against McCall, and players will vote for captains.
"We are young, enthusiastic, hard-working and hilarious," Whitelaw said. "We are going to go out and do out best and have a good time while we're doing it."