Wood River varsity girls' soccer coach Jenni Conrad called last season a "rebuilding year." She says much the same about the 14-game 2010 season that opens Friday, Aug. 20 with a home game against Skyview.
But with many key pieces in place, Conrad seems to be building from the top down, rather than the bottom up. And Wood River is used to being on top, boasting 15 consecutive state tournament appearances.
"I am so excited about the potential of this team," Conrad said. "It is a super coachable and highly motivated team. They bring a lot of various things to the table and it is a great balance of personalities."
In her rookie year at the helm last fall, Conrad picked up where former coach Greg Gvozdas left off.
She earned "Coach of the Year" honors in the six-team Great Basin Conference. She guided her team to a 16-4-1 record, the program's sixth consecutive conference title and the Sportsmanship trophy in the 4A State tournament.
One of the most important returning starters for Conrad and assistant coach Kelley Sinnott is senior goalie Madison Gove. She recorded eight shutouts in 2009. Gove helped the Wolverines clinch the conference championship over Twin Falls, shutting out the Bruins when the tight contest went to penalty kicks.
"Madison was the glue last year and really got us out of those games against Twin Falls. She is mentally composed and calm, but demanding of her defense," Conrad said. Junior Cheyenne Swanson is the backup goalie.
Conrad will utilize a flat back four this season. Instead of a conventional stopper-sweeper alignment, the four defenders are two outside and two inside fullbacks. Many times, the most aggressive players end up as strikers, but some of Wood River's most hawkish girls can be found patrolling the back third.
Center defenders Taylor Hayes, a senior, and junior Maddie Bates will anchor the team through the middle. On the outside Conrad has a wealth of options in juniors Sloan Storey and Lucy Paisley, and sophomores Maggie Williams and Haley Cooper.
"We have such a strong defense, I'm not worried about changing things around," Conrad said.
The coach added, "Sloan and Lucy are incredibly fast on the flank and can track down anybody. Sloan has amazing footwork, never loses possession. Taylor is a force to be reckoned with and can push up to midfield to shut the attack down early. Maddie does not shy away from anyone."
After just one week of practices, Conrad was still tinkering with her midfield, but one position that is already filled features junior K.T. Martinez at defensive center mid. Last season, Martinez was third on the team with 15 goals. She is a determined two-way player who leads by example.
Wood River's three All-League first team players last year were Martinez, Taylor Hayes and Teagen Palmer.
Martinez could be paired in the center with sophomore McKenna Chase. Conrad said Chase has been impressive during preseason with her technical ability, distribution of the ball and field vision. Chase scored 10 goals last season on junior varsity.
Wood River's midfield options include returning senior starter Ellen Davis, junior Erin Murphy, soph Gracie Eagan and freshmen Riley Kilmartin Schmidt and Haley Montgomery.
Conrad is also hoping for the return of key juniors Teagan Palmer (17 goals) and Nicole Roos (6 goals). They are currently ski racing in Australia and New Zealand.
"They would have to earn their spots and playing time back, but I know they have amazing work ethics and they gave so much to us last year, on and off the field," Conrad said.
Great Basin Conference Co-Player of the Year Tanner Dredge returns for her senior year as the school's all-time leading scorer. Diminutive in stature but dogged in determination, Dredge led the team with 33 goals last season and has 86 in her three seasons.
"Tanner has incredible speed and a powerful accurate shot," Conrad said.
Dredge is also very adept with both feet, making it harder for defenders to contain her. Senior Jessica Martens, the leading scorer on last year's junior varsity team with 21 goals, joins Dredge up front.
Wood River, unbeaten in league play and at home last fall, scored 102 goals last season (4.9 per game). It is a tally Conrad thinks her team could easily surpass in 2010.
She said, "We have several girls that can step up and bury the ball. We have a great ability to attack. Our transition from defense to offense is very good. We will definitely challenge our halfbacks to get up there and attack.
"The beauty of our team is it can play up the field directly or the girls can indirectly play really good possession ball. We have a really good 'spine' and can attack through the center of the field or distribute to the flanks. Our combination plays, passing and receiving have been very clean."
The team is also very fast. Team trainer John Koth said for the first time in team annals every single field player finished the one-and-a-half mile run in under 12 minutes.
"We are just killing our times from last year," Conrad said. "The girls are in great condition."
Team captains are Hayes, Gove and Dredge, all on varsity since they were freshmen.
Wood River opens the season at home against Skyview on Friday, Aug. 20. Varsity kickoff is 4:30 p.m. It is a rematch Conrad is looking forward to. In last year's season-opener, the Hawks shutout the Wolverines 2-0.
"I am excited and think we can do well against them," she said. "This team is driven and has expectations, but they also know it is not just about wins and losses, but how we develop throughout the season. They know the steps they have to take to meet their expectations."
Doug Stouffer is the head coach of the junior varsity team with players Courtney Ballard, Emilia Bingham, Charlotte Currie, Emmalie Dion, Allison Fluetsch, Laurel Gaeddert, Keara Gammon, Telar McClure, Natasha Morse, Lilly Rivera, Olivia Roche, Sage Rust, Lex Shapiro, Isabel Thornton, Sheridan Velacquez and Petra Zeiler.