You might think Wood River High School girls' soccer coach Jenni Conrad would be discouraged, having lost her two best players in all-time top scorer Tanner Dredge to graduation and midfielder Kaitana Martinez (knee injury).
All Dredge did was score 115 goals including 21 three-goal hat tricks in her four Wolverine seasons. All senior Martinez did was score 40 goals since her freshman campaign including some of last season's most clutch scores for Conrad.
But Conrad isn't one to be discouraged. The third-year Wolverine coach (30-8-1) is excited about the 13-game regular season that begins Saturday, Aug. 20 at 11 a.m. with a home game against The Community School of Sun Valley, in Hailey.
Unbeaten at home in 33 games dating back to 2007, Wood River will also entertain the Bonneville Bees from Idaho Falls Monday, Aug. 22 at 4:30 p.m. on the Hailey pitch. The Wolverines boast a 3-1-1 all-time record against Bonneville including a 9-0 win at the state tournament in 2008. Against the Cutthroats, Wood River leads the 23-game series 15-3-5.
Youth will play a big role for Wood River this season.
Conrad said about her relatively small 17-player varsity squad, "Looking at our team roster on paper could be a little disconcerting with our seven freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors and six seniors. But working with these girls for the past two weeks has eased a lot of my concerns.
"We definitely have quality over quantity. With their intensity, amazing work ethic, tactical and technical skills we're already on the road to defending our district championship title. And we're always hoping to get a little closer to a state championship."
Certainly Wood River (235-61-26 in 18 seasons, state titles in 1995 and 2000) came excruciatingly close to a state championship last October with Dredge (29 goals) having one of her best seasons, Martinez operating at full steam and Sloan Storey scoring in all three state games at Lake City High.
Wood River, making its 16th consecutive trip to the state tournament, beat Hillcrest of Idaho Falls 3-2 in its first game, then lost to defending champion Sandpoint 0-0 (3-2 kicks) in the semi-final and to Skyview of Nampa 3-1 for third place.
Sandpoint (9-7-5) went on to the championship game, where the Bulldogs lost 0-0 (3-2 kicks) to unbeaten Bishop Kelly of Boise (22-0-0), a state winner for the third time in four seasons.
Making the State 4A tournament will be harder than ever in the six-team Great Basin Conference, which gets only one automatic berth for the Oct. 20-22 meet in Caldwell.
Wood River has won the league tournament title for seven straight years, but the Wolverines—if they finished second in the league this year—would have to win a state play-in game against the Boise-area third-place team in order to make it back to the big meet.
To meet the challenge, Conrad and assistant coaches Kelley Sinnott and John Koth (fitness/nutrition) have welcomed 17 varsity players. Junior varsity coach Doug Stouffer has 10 on his roster.
Defense will be crucial.
Returning backs are seniors Maddie Bates and Lucy Paisley, and junior Maggie Williams. They're playing in front of senior goalkeeper Cheyenne Swanson, who has replaced Madison Gove between the pipes. "Cheyenne is a force in the back," said the coach.
Center back is freshman Rory Cole, with freshman Timber Kelly subbing in on defense. Other key players include senior Sloan Storey (14 goals last season) and freshman Sammy Sutton at center midfield, and senior Erin Murphy at right midfield.
Conrad will rotate through strikers including sophomore Haley Montgomery (4 goals), senior Lucy Brannon and freshman Olivia Thornton.
Paisley and Storey both made the All-Great Basin Conference second team last fall when Wood River (14-4-1) notched 11 shutouts in its 19 games and outscored opponents by a 101-19 margin. Over the last two seasons Wood River is 203-47 better than opponents in scoring. Those scoring totals without Dredge will shrink.
Twin Falls with its talented junior striker Claire Goss is likely to be Wood River's chief competition once again. The two teams play Sept. 7 in Hailey and again Sept. 26 in Twin.
Conrad said, "I know there has been a lot of talk about Twin Falls losing 11 seniors but they have a bigger pool of players there that play club soccer and come through the ranks.
"We have to go into this season assuming they're as good or maybe even better than last year. We always look forward to the competitive nature of the games against Twin Falls. We need games like that to make us a better team."
Seniors—Maddie Bates, Lucy Brannon, Erin Murphy, Lucy Paisley, Sloan Storey and Cheyenne Swanson.
Juniors—Grace Eagan and Maggie Williams.
Freshmen—Rory Cole, Timber Kelly, Sammy Sutton, Bridgette Thomas and Olivia Thornton.
Sliders (varsity and JV)—Laurel Gaeddert (sophomore), Tate Morrell and Megan Murphy (freshmen).