Not many teams open their high school soccer season playing the defending state champions, but the Wood River High School boys' varsity team will have that golden opportunity Monday, Aug. 22 when its 13-game regular-season schedule debuts in Idaho Falls.
Wood River (11-7-1 last season) opens up against the Bonneville Bees (16-2-2), winners of last October's State 4A tournament in Lake City 2-0 over Bishop Kelly of Boise (13-5-4). It was Bonneville's second state championship in four years, with Sandpoint prevailing in 2008-09.
The Wolverines (250-154-40 since 1986, state titles in 1998, 1999 and 2003) haven't had much success against Bonneville in the 13-game rivalry dating back to 1987. Bonneville has won six of the last seven games and owns an 8-4-1 advantage.
But last October, in the first round at state, Bonneville was fortunate to slip past upset-minded Wood River 1-0 en route to the title. The Wolverines went on to beat Columbia of Nampa 4-3 and league rival Burley 1-0 to secure the consolation championship—the first Hailey state boys' trophy since 2003 and the first-ever at the 4A level.
Third-year WRHS head coach Luis Monjaras (25-12-4, 3-3 at state) relishes meeting good teams and his players have earned state trips in 2009 and 2010. Last year's 2-1 victory over three-time defending league champ Jerome was Wood River's first-ever Great Basin Conference championship, and its first district title in seven years.
Monjaras and his returning varsity players remember Bonneville well and realize how close they were to beating the Bees and possibly winning the big trophy at state. He said, "Bonneville is mostly Latino based. They play the ball on the ground and they play it fast. They are athletic and skillful with the ball."
It will be harder than ever to return to state this fall because the GBC gets only one automatic berth—its tournament winner—to the State 4A tournament Oct. 20-22 in Caldwell. Wood River will be aiming for its 20th state tournament trip in 26 seasons of interscholastic soccer.
Although his program has welcomed 40-plus players from grades 9-12, same as last year, Monjaras realizes that losing 11 seniors will be a significant impact. He now has six seniors, only four with much varsity time.
Fortunately some of the other GBC teams are in similar predicaments—Twin Falls losing seven seniors, Burley nine and Minico 10. He said, "Several of the teams lost nearly as many as we did. It should be interesting, maybe twice as competitive in the league because most of the players are young. I do think we have the kids with the most experience."
To cope with the learning curve, Monjaras said he and assistant coach Eric Anderson will stick to two different formations, depending on the field size and the team Wood River is playing. "Last year we had four different formations," Monjaras said. "We want to simplify things a little, but not too much because we are building."
Defense, so important to Wood River's success last fall, will start with senior goalkeeper Dylan Carey. Taking Spyder Turco's spot as sweeper will be senior Jeffrey Espejo, who filled in so well at back last year. Seniors Nathan Moses and Luis Lopez, and sophomore Miguel Velasco will step up.
Junior Alex Lopez and sophomore Zac Miczulski will play forward, Miczulski at the top, with Lopez roaming from side to side with some of the same skills and style as the now-graduated Bryan Donoso. The midfield features junior Liam Jablonski in the center, senior Rex Kelly and sophomore Stephen Pfeiffer on the wings, backed up by the strong twosome of juniors Trevor Brand and Zack Freeman.
Seniors—Dylan Carey (GK), Nathan Moses (D), Jeffrey Espejo (D), Cristian Zuniga (MF/F), Rex Kelly (MF) and Luis Lopez (D).
Juniors—Zack Freeman (D/MF), Trevor Brand (MF/D), Liam Jablonski (F/MF), Alex Lopez (F), Cole Caminiti (F/MF), Guillermo Velasco (MF) and Josh Morell (MF/F).
Sophomores—Andrew Graves (MF), Stephen Pfeiffer (MF/F), Miguel Velasco (D), Zac Miczulski (F), Max Mauldin (GK), Chandler Gifford (D), Eron Bates (D) and Drew Morse (MF).
Sliders (V and JV)—Chase Hutchinson (soph), Jon Scott (freshman) and Sage Kelly (freshman).
Seniors—Victor Farfan and Kevin Blas.
Sophomores—Max Mauldin, Dylan Black, Austin Smith, Daniel Owens, Cesar Velasco, Chase Hutchinson, Keegan Heneghan and Skylar Davie.
Freshmen—Jon Scott, Sage Kelly, River Kelly, Sam Brown, Taylor Cooper, Kyle Mungall, Kyle Weller, Desmond Porth, Cormac Heneghan and Jake Whitlock.