Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ten years later, a state championship is revisited

Wood River boys won it all in Nampa, on Halloween in 1998

Express Staff Writer

This team photo was taken about 30 minutes before the Wood River High School boys’ soccer team went on and beat the defending champion Weiser Wolverines in the 1998 State A-2 tournament championship game, on Halloween at Nampa. With their game faces on are, bottom row from left, Mike Spaulding, Thayne Rolf, Graham Watanabe, Charlie Parker, Josh Keefer, James Cordes, Justin Nelson and Trevor Brown. Back row, from left, head coach Brian Daluiso, Ryan Northrop, Jess Kiesel, Jacob Risner, Charlie Askew, Josh Smart, Chris Mattias, Chad Cleveland, Jason Southward, Alex McLaughlin and coach Craig Roth. Photo by Jeff Cordes

It was a memorable Halloween for the Wood River High School boys' soccer team 10 years ago this week at Liberty Park in Nampa, where the Wolverines won a state championship on a balmy fall day.

Wood River's upset victory over defending champ Weiser was memorable in two ways.

First, it was the first-ever boys' state championship for a Wood River athletic team. Secondly, the game itself was incredibly exciting, scoreless for 110 minutes despite a zillion Weiser chances and finally settled in penalty kick shootout.

Wood River won the shootout 4-1 and celebrated in a pile.

"It was an amazing surprise, so unexpected and so out of the blue," head coach Brian Daluiso said this week, recalling a joyous day when everything came together for Hailey.

He said, "We had a lot of raw talent, speed and the best goalkeeper (Charlie Askew) I'd ever have. We knew we had an outside shot at state. We had a group of kids on the field who just wouldn't quit. In the season we had seen glimpses of it. They peaked in the final game and rose to the challenge."

To mark the 10-year occasion and perhaps remind today's athletes that great things can be accomplished with hard work and team play, the Idaho Mountain Express is revisiting that team and that championship this week, in today's paper and also on Friday, Nov. 7.

Friday's paper will include "where are you now?" visits with players on the championship team, along with memories of that season and of coach Daluiso. It will become apparent that tension between players and the coach had much to do with the team's success.

Daluiso and co-coach Craig Roth were teammates on the 1983 Avalanche Soccer Club state title team that was a forerunner of Wood River's soccer program. And they demanded much of the 1998 squad.

Wood River played only 15 games the entire season, in contrast to this year's Wolverine girls' squad that finished with 21 games after winning the State 4A consolation title. That meant there was more time between games for practices, and for tough training.

Lot of sprints and running.

High school English teacher Daluiso, relatively new at coaching, was in only his second year with the Wolverines. It was the beginning of a highly successful seven-year coaching run. Daluiso (97-24-11, 17-5-2 at state) won three state championships in seven years and finished second three times.

No athletic program at Wood River has ever been so successful for such a stretch.

But Daluiso and his able assistant Roth were just starting to figure it out in 1998.

Daluiso said, "What we didn't know as soccer coaches, we felt we could compensate for by making them strong. We had a lot of time between games those days and we just put them through the wringer. We changed fitness stuff so they were sprinting more and more. We did this so they could hang on at the end of the games.

"What we lacked in knowledge, we made up for in strength and fitness. We sent the signal that, you might beat us, but you're going to know you played us. You are going to be the weaker team. You're going to find out it's hard to focus when you can't breathe."

Born in California and raised as a ski racer, Daluiso moved to the Wood River Valley and played football and soccer for the Wolverines, while ski racing for Sun Valley.

He said, "I had a lot of athletic opportunities in ski racing and a lot of good coaches. But I felt I never had a coach who just wouldn't accept all my excuses and weaknesses as an athlete. My goal was to be that coach, and take the hard-line approach so that nothing ever seemed good enough for me.

"That was my goal, and over the years I tried to learn the difference between driving them to be successful and driving them too hard. But it required a lot. It was always a fight and it took its toll on me. It's draining to be the hard guy all the time. It wears you out. So I changed over the years."

Daluiso just turned 40 and has undergone changes in his personal life. Having started in 1995-96, he's in his 13th year teaching at Wood River. He and his wife, Kate, have a three-year-old son Milo. Not surprisingly Daluiso has spent time with Milo skiing up on Dollar Mountain's Quarter Dollar.

"I miss the coaching and what I did with the kids on the field, but I don't miss the administrative part of coaching," he said. "But I am in the process of applying to law school and taking it one step at a time right now. It's time to find out if I want to do that or continue to teach. It's funny, I'm doing my essay for law school boards. And I find that what I learned on the field and all those experiences keep popping up."

Meanwhile, coach Roth is currently living in Boise with his wife Stacey and their two children, Charlie (born in 2000) and Kate (2002), both born in Sun Valley. Stacey works for the Boise School District and Craig's is a construction project manager for a company that does work worldwide.

His current project is renovation of a historic hotel in Santa Barbara, Ca., and he recently worked on the largest privately funded project ever in the U.S.—CityCenter in Las Vegas. Roth also coached the Sun Valley "C" alpine team from 1997-2002 and said this week, "I haven't coached since then but really miss it."

See Friday's paper for more memories and an update on the championship team players.

Kicks, keeper are Wood River's winning weapons

(Editor's note: This article was originally published in the Nov. 4, 1998 edition of the Idaho Mountain Express, just a few days after the Wolverines won the school's first-ever state team athletic championship at Nampa's Liberty Park)

One goal meant everything when Wood River High School and Weiser played for the championship of the 1998 State A-2 boys' soccer tournament on a balmy Saturday afternoon at Nampa's Liberty Park.

But nobody got it in 110 minutes of fierce, defensive scoreless soccer that including two, 10-minute nailbiting overtime periods. Defending champion Weiser, out-shooting Wood River 23-9, threw everything but the kitchen sink at Wood River junior goalkeeper Charlie Askew.

"You just couldn't ask for a better final game, regardless of the outcome," said second-year Wood River coach Brian Daluiso afterward.

Askew was awesome—catching corner kick after corner kick, stopping two breakaways that were truly frightening on Halloween and making one astounding kick save worthy of Patrick Roy. In four state tournament games at Nampa and 380 minutes, he allowed just one goal.

He even stopped a hair-raising Weiser penalty kick three minutes into the first overtime—preserving his seventh shutout of the season.

The outcome of the state championship went down to penalty kicks, similar to last year when Weiser's Wolverines defeated Minico of Rupert 2-1 for its first-ever State A-3 championship. But with Askew in the net and four cool customers making their kicks, Wood River's Wolverines wouldn't be denied in 1998.

Shooting first and shooting low, senior co-captain Alex McLaughlin, junior Chad Cleveland and sophomore Jason Southward drilled their kicks into the net, putting Wood River up 3-0. Weiser's first kicker hit the post and Askew dove to his right to stop the second Weiser kick.

Weiser's Johannes Gibson finally found a corner and it was 3-1.

Wood River senior co-captain Josh Keefer stepped to the line, needing only to score for the state championship. Moments earlier, in OT, Keefer's foul had caused the penalty kick that Askew had heroically stopped. Keefer returned the favor so Askew wouldn't be challenged again.

In dead silence Keefer shot. And he scored! Gravitational pull and sheer happiness brought every Wood River player, coach and countless spectators into a joyous, jumping and hugging pile on the soccer field.

It was Wood River's first state boys' soccer championship, indeed, the first state championship ever for a Wood River boys' athletic team.

And Askew, by acclamation, was voted the state tournament Most Valuable Player in the Idaho Youth Soccer Association meet.

"Defense wins championships," said Daluiso, whose 10-2-3 team went 3-0-1 at state and prevailed despite scoring only two goals in its final three games of the three-day, World-Cup format tournament.

He added, "Charlie will always play well but he was amazing in the final game. Of all the teams we've seen, there was no better back line on defense than Alex McLaughlin, Jacob Risner and Justin Nelson."

To reach the final, Wood River beat a pair of top-seeded squads, Lewiston 4-0 Thursday and Blackfoot 1-0 Friday. Needing only one goal to advance to the championship game under the tiebreaker formula, Keefer provided it with a clutch free kick early in Friday's 1-1 tie with host team Skyview of Nampa.

But Wood River's path to the title actually began Oct. 20, in Rupert, when the Wolverines played miserably in a 3-1 loss to Minico that ended the regular-season schedule. It was the final game before the state meet.

Road to the championship

"After Minico, we sat the guys down and what I told them was, we knew they had the skills to win the state tournament. The question was whether they had the heart and desire," said Daluiso, who is helped by co-coach Craig Roth.

Daluiso added, "Ten minutes after the Minico game we had a difficult time telling whether we had won or lost.

"The highs, the lows, the complacency—we've been fighting it all year. We saw it coming on the bus ride down to Burley, and we tied them 1-1. When we played The Community School up there, you could tell which was the better team in the first half, and it wasn't us.

"But we really came together as a team at state. We were real pleased."

Wood River's fitness level, the one single thing the coaches had been hammering home all season, was a major factor in the 4-0 Wolverine state victory over Lewiston Thursday. "Josh Keefer really had an amazing game. He got everyone involved," said Roth afterward.

Four different players scored starting with Keefer, who collected a 45-yard through ball from junior midfielder James Cordes and made it 1-0 just four minutes into the game.

At 30 minutes, junior co-captain Graham Watanabe carried the ball down the field and beat the Lewiston goalkeeper for a 2-0 Hailey lead.

In the 76th minute, junior Chad Cleveland passed to Jason Southward, who scored his team-leading 10th goal. In the 83rd minute, sophomore Jess Kiesel left-footed a cross that sophomore Mike Spaulding headed home for the 4-0 final score.

Roth said, "It was by far our prettiest goal."

Friday morning, Wood River faced off against Blackfoot, "one of the top teams in the tournament," according to Roth. Blackfoot had beaten Wood River 4-2 in an early-season friendly match, a result that had shocked a Wolverine squad that had been feeling pretty good about itself after last year's fourth-place state soccer tournament finish.

This time, Wood River won 1-0.

Roth said, "We won because our defense played well—holding them to three or four scoring chances, which was pretty good. We won because we were opportunistic. We had one really good scoring opportunity and we capitalized on that."

At 41 minutes, Southward made a good run down the left wing setting the stage for a Wolverine throw-in.

The ball went to junior wing Charlie Parker, who crossed a pass into the box. Meanwhile, Cordes quietly snuck between two Blackfoot defenders. Parker's pass bounced once. Cordes came under it and headed it softly past the onrushing goalkeeper. It made it across the line for a big goal, the eventual winner.

Large as the 1-0 lead seemed, it grew more and more precarious as Blackfoot used the wind to pin the ball down in Wood River's end for virtually the entire second half.

Daluiso said, "Starting with the Blackfoot game and continuing for our last three games, we did a lot of bunkering in, which was a little scary."

But the Wolverine defense led by the backchecking hustle of stopper Cleveland got the job done for a second straight Hailey state shutout.

Roth said, "Blackfoot out-shot us 11-5 and Charlie (Askew) had to make seven saves, and their keeper made only one. We were real excited to have a win, and excited not to have to play Blackfoot again."

The Wood River coaches did their tiebreaking mathematics in the two hours between the Blackfoot game and their final round-robin contest Friday afternoon against Skyview. They figured that the Wood River Wolverines, win or lose, would need to score only one goal against Skyview to advance into Saturday's championship game.

Nonetheless, to keep Wood River's motivation at a high pitch the coaches didn't explain the situation to the boys in that way. Roth said, "We told them we needed a tie or win against Skyview to advance."

They got the key goal early, on their first shot.

Keefer nailed a 30-yard free kick high over the Nampa keeper's leap at nine minutes. The halftime score could have been 3-0 because Cordes and Watanabe had fine chances that just went wide. The Wolverines out-shot Skyview 8-4 in the first 45 minutes and set the tone of the game.

On an offsides call midway through the first half, Keefer (bruised quad) gave Wood River a pre-Halloween scare when he spilled over the Skyview keeper and landed hard. He sat the rest of the game and was questionable for Saturday's finale.

Meanwhile, Askew finished with nine saves but made his only mistake of the tournament when misjudged a Skyview indirect kick at 88 minutes, and Skyview scored on a header.

Weary, the Wood River boys headed back to the hotel knowing their school was in the state championship game for the first time in 11 years. Daluiso and Roth then scouted Weiser's 3-2 victory over Twin Falls and learned one important thing: Weiser's defense was quick and tough, but their tall freshman goalkeeper could be beaten low.

The bus ride to the title game Saturday was deathly silent.

Daluiso said, "We told the guys we really had nothing to lose. We had already achieved second place, at least. A lot of people thought Weiser would mop up against us—their group was the tougher of the two at state, and they had beaten a Twin Falls team that had soundly beaten us 2-0 at Twin Falls earlier in October."

Weiser's defense was clearly the equal of Wood River. "We have some fast guys like Mike Spaulding and James Cordes, and we just couldn't get around them. Weiser's defense was incredible," said Daluiso.

In the second half Weiser stepped up into Wood River's passing lanes and totally took away Hailey's ball control offense. Time after time, Weiser attacked, and Askew made the save, and then Weiser started rebuilding yet another scoring chance at the midfield stripe.

Daluiso said, "We weren't generating anything on offense in the second half. Chad Cleveland had a big rip from the outside, a real good chance, but that was it.

"But Charlie wasn't afraid to take charge. When the chips were down, the more aggressive he became. He took chances. Without hesitation, he attacked the ball every time.

"Some of the height he got on Weiser's corner kicks was incredible. He stuffed two breakaways, coming out and attacking when Weiser sent someone in with a through ball, like the kind Weiser scored on when they beat Twin Falls."

At 65 minutes, Askew came up huge on Weiser's best chance in regulation time—somehow shooting out his left leg like a hockey goalie and deflecting a shot that was headed for the corner of the net. And, three minutes into the first overtime, Askew calmly caught Fernie Sosa's penalty kick attempt for Weiser.

"Hey, we wanted it to go to penalty kicks," said Daluiso, differing from most coaches who might fear going to kicks to settle the game.

"With three minutes left in the second overtime, we were telling our players to clear the ball and kill the clock, especially with the game Charlie was having.

"In a sense, we were betting our success on Charlie. But in penalty kicks, Weiser's defense wasn't a part of it anymore. They were off the field. It was the one point in the game when I actually calmed down a little on the sideline. Amazingly enough, we were confident.

"We had seen Weiser's goalie. He couldn't move well, and anything low he couldn't stop. We told our kids to shoot it low. And they did."

Daluiso said, "You know, the thing is we didn't have any real stars out there. All the other teams we played had amazing, scary ballhandlers, but if those players broke down, their entire team broke down.

"Sure, we had our moments when we'd get on each other, but we had no ball hogs and no hotheads. We had lots of good skills, but we were a real team."

Watanabe, Keefer and Askew made the All-Tournament team, but defenders McLaughlin and Risner could easily have made the select team as well, Daluiso said. "And Chad Cleveland was everywhere," he added.

For the season, Wood River scored 34 goals and allowed 15 goals in 15 games. Southward finished with 11 goals, Keefer 5, Cordes 5, Spaulding 3, Thayne Rolf 3, Watanabe 2, Trevor Brown 1, Parker 1, Josh Smart 1, McLaughlin 1 and Cleveland 1.

A first for Wood River's boys

Not only did Wood River High School's boys' varsity soccer team win the first state boys' soccer title in school history Saturday in Nampa, they became the first-ever boys' state champion for Wood River.

Wolverine boys' track (1970 and 1972) won state titles, and boys' cross country (1968, 1971 and 1972) added state championships for coach Bob Shay. But they are essentially individual sports that calculate team standings, not true team sports.

Previous boys' state soccer championships in 1983 and 1984 were won by the private Avalanche Soccer Club, the predecessor of Hailey's high school soccer program that Wood River High assumed in 1986.

In all, Wood River has won 15 state athletic championships. Besides those already mentioned, they are:

Girls' soccer: 1995 for coach Tizz Strachan. Volleyball: 1977 and 1978 for coach Dave Neumann. Tennis: 1982, 1986 and 1988 for coach Nancy Scribner (Williams). Girls' cross country: 1975, 1983 and 1984 for coaches Shay and John Hopkins.

State tournament notes

At the beginning of the 1998 season, coach Craig Roth was prophetic, saying defense was one of Wood River's top priorities. He said then, "I liken it to France winning the World Cup. If you have great goaltending and the best defense of the tournament, you make your scoring breaks and the rest takes care of itself." Sounds a lot like what happened in Nampa last weekend.

Besides their loyal fans and the Wood River girls' team, the new state champs appreciated the support of the Twin Falls Bruins boys' team along the sidelines during the championship game. And Wood River trainer John Koth and his wife, Sherri, both big Wolverine backers, supported both the boys' and girls' teams from Hailey at the state meet.

Josh Smart's typically-astute comment right after the championship game was, "Who would have thought after that game at Buhl?" He referred to the season-opening 1-1 tie that Wood River salvaged at Buhl. Coach Daluiso laughed, "At the time I said to Craig, Buhl might be the easiest team we'd play all year so we could be in big trouble. We might not win a game. So right away, we started concentrating on fitness. We worked these guys. There was some pain and I think it paid off in the end."

The rallying cry of Wood River's state championship girls' team in 1995 was "Sisterhood." The rallying cry of this year's boys' champions was "Sideshow.".....James Cordes and his older sister Laura Cordes were both juniors when their Wood River soccer teams won state titles.....Junior midfielder Trevor Brown struggled through a bout of flu that sidelined him for Wood River's first three state games. But he got back in the saddle for the championship game and contributed some valuable minutes.

Coach Roth was a junior fullback and Daluiso a sophomore halfback on the Avalanche Soccer Club team that won the 1983 "B" division state title with a 2-1 win over Boise, 3-1 victory over Capital and 5-3 championship game victory over Borah. The next year, 1984, Avalanche (14-3) repeated as State "B" champs, outscoring its state foes 21-1 including the 1-0 final over Boise. Do Daluiso and Roth think it's funny that, 15 years later, they are coaching boys who were toddlers then to the state championship? "We talk about it all the time," Daluiso said.

Of course, Idaho soccer has changed quite a bit since then, and will change quite a bit in the future. Ten and 11 years ago, the focus was on offense and defense was more-or-less the "right field" position where you inserted your less-skilled and slow-footed players. The only other time Wood River played in the state championship game was in 1987, in Boise. That year, coach Erik Larson's Wolverines were 14-6-1 and scored 93 goals in 21 games topped by Brad Jaques' school-record 36 goals. Those 36 goals, by the way, would be two more goals than this year's Wood River team scored the entire season. The championship game that year was a showcase for scoring stars Jaques and Kevin Swanson of Nampa. Nampa won 4-1 and Swanson scored all four goals, to end up with incredible 46 goals for the season. Jaques tallied Wood River's only goal.

This was the first time a Wood River boys' team has won three games at a single state tournament. In 11 state soccer tournaments, the Hailey teams have a 12-21-2 record but are 5-2-1 the last two visits.....This was the third year the State A-2 soccer tournament has been for eight teams instead of six, but the first time it has been held in a World Cup round-robin format. Generally, the teams and fans approved of the new format which guaranteed three games for each qualifying team.

The last two seasons, Wood River is 19-7-3 and has allowed just 29 goals in 29 games. The Wolverines have scored 57 goals in those two seasons—23 last year and 34 this year. Coach Daluiso said, "Last year we didn't have many goals in the season and a lot of goals (12) at state. This year was different. We scored more goals in the season and very few at state."

Community School soccer coach Richard Whitelaw had quite a bit of respect for Wood River's team this year. After the Wolverines defeated the Cutthroats 3-1 in Hailey Sept. 26, Whitelaw said he thought Wood River looked like a state championship team.

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