It starts out tough and doesn't get much easier in the 2009 prep boys' soccer season for the Wood River High School varsity. First-year head coach Luis Monjaras welcomes the challenge for his Wolverines.
Wood River kicks off its 15-game season today, Friday with a 4:30 p.m. home game against Skyview of Nampa at South Valley Sports Complex soccer field, Hailey. The Wolverines have never beaten Skyview, 0-4-2 in six meetings including 6-0 and 5-0 losses in 2007 and 2008.
Schooled in California, Monjaras is a former Sonoma State soccer player now in his 10th season of coaching—the first as a head coach. He assisted Matt Phillips with the Wood River program the last two years.
Monjaras has learned how tough Idaho soccer can be at the 4A level. Skyview, the 2005 state champion, carried a 19-0-0 record into last year's State 4A tournament before dropping its first game 3-2 in overtime to Century of Pocatello. But Skyview (21-1-0) rebounded for two overtime victories and the 2008 consolation title.
And Century, last year's State 4A fourth-place team, will be Wood River's next home foe on Saturday, Aug. 29.
Monjaras said, "These early non-conference games will be places to see what we need to do to prepare and become a state contending team."
He added, "Our conference is one of the toughest in the state. Matt (Phillips) did a great job last year making the team more competitive. Most of our games turned out to be very close. We were just 25 minutes away from making state before losing 2-1 (OT) to Burley."
Indeed, Wood River (8-9-1) made great strides—improving from a 3-7-2 mark in 2007, winning five more road games, jumping in goals scored from 18 to 31, and boasting a 7-4-1 record in matches settled by two goals or less.
Nevertheless it was Wood River's third consecutive losing season, and third straight year with no state tourney berth. Phillips (11-18-3) stepped aside, and Monjaras became the sixth head coach of a respected program with 225-142-34 record in 401 games dating back to 1986.
This year, Wood River's 24th in soccer, Monjaras and assistant coach Mark Gasenica have been working with 35 boys. They've got eight seniors and eight juniors on the 16-player varsity. One key senior, Austin Cruz (7 goals last fall) is injured and could miss the season.
Wood River also said farewell to a talented midfielder in junior Chris de la Cruz, an honorable mention All-Leaguer who moved to Twin Falls.
Plenty of talent remains, starting with senior goalkeeper Colter Brehmer, senior midfielder Morgan Pike (a team-high 8 goals last fall), senior stopper Cody Phelps, junior midfielder Bryan Donoso (4 goals) and alert junior sweeper Spyder Turco.
Having a veteran goalkeeper like Brehmer and a relentless sweeper like Turco in the back helped Monjaras make the decision to employ a 4-4-2 system of play—sticking two defenders in the back and letting the wide defenders become midfielders to create more attacking possibilities.
Monjaras said, "We're really fast at the top. We're solid with midfielders who can control the ball and distribute it properly. Defense is pretty solid, but I do have three players fighting for two spots on defense."
Rounding out the varsity are these seniors—back-up goalkeeper Hector Lopez, Felipe Raygoza (3 goals), Luis "Freddy" Tamayo and Wolfie Dieterich—along with juniors Harlan Collins, Charlie Evans, Jake Freeman, Alejandro Garcia, Alexander MacMillan and Ian Murphy. Goalkeeper coach is Eric Anderson.
Coach Dan VandenHeuvel's junior varsity includes the three young players jockeying for the defensive spots, sophomore Nathan Moses along with freshmen Trevor Brand and Jake Freeman. Others are JV keeper Dylan Carey, Jeffrey Espejo, Liam Jablonski, Rex Kelly, Ben Stout, Cole Caminiti, Francisco Gomez, Alex Lopez, Josh Morell, Benito Reveles, Guillermo Velasco, Christina Zuniga and Alberto Salinas.
Wood River's third straight home game to open the season will be Wednesday, Sept. 2 against defending conference champion Jerome. Last fall Jerome (19-1-1) beat Burley 2-0 for the conference title, whipped Century 7-0 for state seeding and then captured third place at the State 4A tournament 4-0 over Century.
Jerome's only loss during its outstanding season was 3-1 to Sandpoint in the state semi-finals—and Sandpoint (19-1-0) went on to capture its sixth state tournament title in nine years 5-1 over Columbia.
After missing out on a state tournament berth with a 1-0 playoff loss to Hillcrest of Idaho Falls, the traditionally strong Burley Bobcats (11-8-1) should come roaring back for coach Wes Nyblade. Burley had only four seniors last season, plus 10 juniors and six sophomores.
Wood River, Jerome, Minico of Rupert and Burley are joined in the new six-team 4th District 4A league by Twin Falls and Canyon Ridge of Twin Falls, meaning that two of the six teams will automatically qualify for this year's State 4A tournament.