Opponents have come to recognize that the Wood River High School boys' varsity soccer team under coach Luis Monjaras will give them a fast-paced and intense game.
"We're one of the powerhouses in the league and everyone wants to outplay us," said Monjaras, entering his fourth season at the Hailey helm. "So we have to step it up every game. We always train our players to play 110%."
In an extremely competitive 4A league, the difference between winning and losing is razor thin. Usually it boils down to which team finishes, and which team doesn't.
"What we lacked last year was scoring," said Monjaras.
Last season, the defending Great Basin Conference champion Wood River Wolverines came up short of the program's 20th state tournament trip in 26 seasons. And the difference was outcomes of one-goal games.
During Wood River's State 4A tournament consolation championship run of 2010, Wood River played seven one-goal games and went 4-3 in those including two one-goal wins in the state tournament.
In 2011, Wood River went 3-4 in its one-goal games including a 1-0 GBC tournament-opening loss to eventual league king Burley. The Minico Spartans eventually ousted Wood River on penalty kicks, then Minico beat Jerome on kicks and Middleton 1-0 in a state play-in.
Both GBC qualifiers Burley (8-8-4) and Minico (11-7-3) fared poorly at the State 4A tourney, each going 0-2 as Blackfoot (15-2-2) captured its first-ever state boys' title 3-0 over Caldwell.
Monjaras has insisted that the Wolverines (258-160-42 since 1986, state titles in 1998, 1999 and 2003) pick up the pieces and restore the program's success. This year, the six-team league gets two state tourney berths.
"We want more of an attacking situation this year," he said. "We've been looking for big things from this group of seniors since they were freshmen. We'll miss them when the season is done, but we have a great class of juniors, too."
To generate more scoring chances while relying on a very strong defense, Monjaras and assistant coach Eric Anderson plan to use a new 4-3-3 formation, compared to last year's 4-4-2 that had only two forwards.
"We push up most of our defenders anyway so we end up with four or five in the middle of the field," Monjaras said. "We have lots of speed and we can use our height on set plays. But we have to convert goals."
Trying to improve upon 29 goals scored in 16 games last fall, the forwards include Zac Miczulski (3 goals last year), Cole Caminiti (4), Andrew Graves (3) and Alex Lopez (4).
Monjaras is encouraged by the addition of junior Alberto Salinas, who didn't play the last two seasons but should be "a great asset to the club," the coach said. "Alberto has speed and ball skills. We can put him anywhere on the field," he said.
The midfield features co-captain Liam Jablonksi on the right, Stephen Pfeiffer in the center and Jon Scott, on the right side covering the gaps and dropping back on defense.
Co-captains Trevor Brand (center) and Zack Freeman (left side) anchor a solid and savvy defense that also features junior co-captain Eron Bates in the center and junior Miguel Velasco on the right side.
Velasco has big shoes to fill, replacing Jeffrey Espejo on the wing. Wood River must also replace the leadership of "Most Inspirational" defender Nathan Moses. "We have the guys who can do it," said Monjaras.
Junior goalkeeper Max Mauldin will replace Dylan Carey (5 shutouts), last year's team Most Valuable Player and a first-team All-Conference pick along with Brand.
"We've had an excellent turnout (40) and have lots of experience back" he said.
Head coach—Luis Monjaras (4th season, 33-18-6).
Assistant coaches—Eric Anderson and Dan VandenHeuvel.
Seniors (7)—Co-captain Trevor Brand (D), Cole Caminiti (F), co-captain Zack Freeman (D), co-captain Liam Jablonski (F/MF), Alex Lopez (F/MF), Josh Morell (MF/F) and Guillermo Velasco (MF).
Juniors (11)—Co-captain Eron Bates (D), Chandler Gifford (D), Andrew Graves (F/MF), Chase Hutchinson (D), Zac Miczulski (F), Max Mauldin (GK), Heriberto Mendoza (F), Drew Morse (F/MF), Stephen Pfeiffer (MF/F), Alberto Salinas (MF/D) and Miguel Velasco (D).
Sophomores (2)—Jon Scott (MF/D) and Sage Kelly (D).
V/JV sliders (5)—Keegan Heneghan and Austin Smith (juniors), Kyle Weller and Desmond Porth (sophs), Daniel Graves (freshman).
Head coach—Dan VandenHeuvel.
Juniors (4)—Dylan Black, Keegan Heneghan, Diogo Mira and Austin Smith.
Sophomores (3)—Kyle Mungal, Desmond Porth and Kyle Weller.
Freshmen (12)—Ben Brunelle, Joey Dwyer, Daniel Graves, Drew Kaminski, Mikey Levy, Eliel Lopez, Yuri McClure, Carter Ros, Jack Seiller, Emmitt Stevens, Dereck Thompson and Jacob Truxal.