Playing close, low-scoring games is second nature for Wood River High School boys’ varsity soccer teams coached by Luis Monjaras. Winning those games has been the difference between an early exit and qualifying for state soccer.
Last fall, Great Basin Conference “Coach of the Year” Monjaras guided his 14-2-4 Wolverines to the school’s best-ever finish at the State 4A tournament level, third place.
The Wolverines got there with a rugged defense that allowed only 11 goals in 20 games, including 13 shutouts. They were 7-1 in one-goal decisions including 1-0 and 2-1 wins over Blackfoot and Middleton at the State 4A meet in Idaho Falls.
Wood River ran up a five-game, 430-minute scoreless streak led by GBC Player of the Year Trevor Brand and GBC first-teamer Zack Freeman, both graduating seniors. The Wolverines were unbeaten in their first 14 games last fall.
Despite the losses of Brand, Freeman, leading scorer Alex Lopez (9 goals, 7 game winners) and goalkeeper Max Mauldin (move to Utah), Wood River returns a strong core of nine seniors for the 14-game regular season that debuted Monday with a 1-1 tie in Pocatello against the Highland Rams.
“It’s the most experienced team we’ve had over the last couple of years, with the most state experience and the most time playing under pressure,” said fifth-year coach Monjaras, who welcomed 45 players to early-season practices.
Senior Chandler Gifford has moved to Freeman’s vital spot at left back and junior Jon Scott has brought his keen eye for the ball to Brand’s sweeper position. Fortifying the defense in front of junior goalkeeper Kyle Weller are seniors Eron Bates and Miguel Velasco.
Andrew Graves, a cornerstone senior with corner kick savvy, is an attacking midfielder and junior Sage Kelly is skilled at distributing the ball. Fast, versatile players up top are seniors Stephen Pfeiffer, Zac Miczulski and Jose Ortiz.
The GBC should be hotly competitive led by reigning champion Jerome (11-3-6), a loser to Blackfoot on kicks in the State 4A consolation final, along with 2011 league king Burley and Minico (7-9-3), third in the league last fall.
Monjaras’ team (0-0-1) opens its league schedule Wednesday, Sept. 4 at Twin Falls High and then visits Burley Sept. 9.
Wood River last won the league title in 2010. Once again the GBC gets two berths in the State 4A tourney at Caldwell Oct. 24. Reigning state champ is Sandpoint (14-5-2), a 3-2 winner over Skyview (18-2-2) for Sandpoint’s eighth state title.
Head coach—Luis Monjaras (5th year, 47-20-10).
Assistant coaches—Eric Anderson and Juan Salamanca.
Seniors (9)—Andrew Graves (MF), Stephen Pfeiffer (MF/F), Miguel Velasco (D), Zac Miczulski (F), Chandler Gifford (D), Jose Ortiz (MF/F), Keegan Heneghan (D), Eron Bates (D) and Drew Morse (MF/F).
Juniors (4)—Jon Scott (MF/D), Kyle Weller (GK), Dylan Black (MF/F) and Kyle Mungal (MF/F).
Sophomores (3)—Ben Brunelle (F), Daniel Graves (MF) and Yuri McClure (D/MF).
Sliders (V and JV)—Sage Kelly (junior MF), Quinn Magner (junior F), Jack Seiller (sophomore D/MF), Drew Kaminski (sophomore F), Henry Levy (sophomore MF/F), Carter Ros (sophomore D/MF), Heladio Vasquez (sophomore GK) and Carlos Gonzales (sophomore MF/F).
Juniors—Arthur Brugger and Quinn Magner.
Sophomores—Derek Thompson, Jacob Truxal, Eliel Lopez, Kevin Cabrito, Drew Kaminski, Carter Ros, Heladio Vasquez, Jack Seiller, Henry Levy and Carlos Gonzales.
Freshmen—Mathew Stellers, Alex Leon, Josue Montenegro, Sergio “Danny” Mendoza, Irvin Gonzales, Keegan Lupton, Saul Baltazar, Sean Davitt, Dan De la Cruz, Omar Farfan, Carlos G. Gonzales, Michael Madsen, Zach Williams and Clay Cutler.
Monday’s game with Highland
For the boys, Wood River scored in the 52nd minute on an Andrew Graves corner kick that another senior, Stephen Pfeiffer, converted for a 1-0 lead. Highland equalized 10 minutes later for the 1-1 tie.
Monjaras said, “We had clear opportunities throughout the game but just couldn’t get those first-game jitters out.
“Overall the boys played really well. Our defense was very solid. Eron Bates, Jon Scott, Chandler Gifford, Mickey Velasco and (goalkeeper) Kyle Weller worked well together. Our new additions performed well against a solid Highland team. Our offense was good but we will work hard to prepare and perform to their potential.”
Wood River continues its three-game road swing to start its 14-game boys’ season Wednesday, Sept. 4 at Twin Falls. Next up is the annual battle at Burley Monday, Sept. 9 before the Wolverines open at home Wednesday, Sept. 11 with Canyon Ridge of Twin Falls.
Monday’s result represented the 12th straight time since 2007 that Wood River boys’ teams have either beaten or tied Highland. The soccer series favors Wood River 9-2-3.