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2017 Soccer preview: Back on the pitch

Blackfoot soccer players celebrate after winning game one of the 4A state tournament in a shootout over Sandpoint on Oct. 20 at the Idaho Falls Soccer Complex. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)

By MARLOWE HEREFORD
mhereford@postregister.com

Soccer season is a little more than a week old in eastern Idaho, but there’s already plenty to talk about.

Idaho Falls and Skyline enter a second year in the 4A classification while 5A appears to be up for grabs on the girls side and a chase after defending District 5-6 champion Hillcrest on the boys side.

In 3A, state juggernauts Teton and Sugar-Salem are anticipated to battle it out again for the district title on the boys side while Shelley and Sugar-Salem should set the tone on the girls side.

Here’s a look at the area’s three classifications.

CLASS 5A

The Hillcrest boys not only returned to state for the second consecutive season last year, but went there as district champions for the first time since 2009.

Five members of that 11-6-2 team graduated, but that roster also featured 12 juniors and sophomores.

“We’ve got a really nice talented bunch,” Hillcrest coach Bryan Johnston said. “We’ve got to figure out how to play together. We definitely have to focus on humility and understand you’ve gotta earn every game.”

Bonneville, a 5A state tournament qualifier the previous two seasons, graduated seven from last year’s 8-11-2 team, including college signees Hardy Lopez (Spokane Falls Community College), Marlon Cruz and Jony Barrientos (both Lake Tahoe Community College). They also have a new coach in Zach Wilson.

“I’ve got an incredibly young team,” Wilson said. “I’ve got multiple freshmen on the team who are really kicking up their level. It’s a fairly new team as far as working together.”

Rigby graduated nine from last year’s team which entered districts undefeated against conference opponents and ended the season 9-3-6 for what is believed to be a program best record. Rigby coach Bart Mower said Ryker Ritchie, Ada’n Murillo and Jair Sierra are among his returners and he has numerous sophomores.

“I like the fact they’re very coachable,” Rigby Bart Mower said. “We’re gonna have a fun season.”

Johnston, Wilson and Mower all said they anticipate the conference to be as intensely competitive as previous seasons. Madison was playing well by districts last year, and the Idaho State Journal reported that Highland is looking for someone to fill the vacancy of 2017 graduate Jon Elizarraras.

The girls side of 5A District 5-6 appears to be more of a toss-up.

Madison, which went undefeated in the regular season against conference opponents en route to its first district championship last year, graduated seven. Highland, which won the 5A state consolation trophy, returns several players after graduating only three. Rigby graduated two, Bonneville graduated two and Hillcrest graduated nine.

Hillcrest first-year coach Danielle Francis said her six seniors have stepped up and the Knights want to return to state after missing last year.

“They have a lot of leadership and maturity out there,” Francis said. “It’s just a matter of finding our right chemistry out there on the field.”

Second-year Bonneville coach Amy Feik said her team, which has nine seniors, has adopted the motto ‘live in the now’ and aspires to make strides as a program.

“We have a lot of veterans out there,” Feik said. “They’re a little motivated than in previous years. I think this is a good opportunity for us.”

CLASS 4A

Ryan Cook returns to an Idaho Falls boys soccer team that graduated five players, and has had a message for them from the start.

“’You guys are gonna lay the groundwork to be able to return to greatness,’” Cook said. “Being young makes them hungry. They have a desire to show everybody they can win.”

Skyline graduated six, including Southern Virginia signee Tyson Ricks. Grizz coach Byraun Moretz said this year’s team is “more collective.”

“In years past, we relied too much on one player,” Moretz said. “This year, we’re older defensively. There’s a lot of older maturity back there.”

Blackfoot graduated nine from last year’s 16-3-1 team that began the season 12-0. Broncos coach Liam Pope said he has 14 upperclassmen, including reigning Post Register Boys Soccer Player of the Year Coque Velasquez, who has moved to the midfield, but his bench isn’t as deep as last year.

“Guys are gonna have to step up and do it,” Pope said. “They’re gonna have to do that all year.”

According to the Idaho State Journal, Century should be equally tough in both 4A District 5-6 boys and girls soccer, perhaps more so upon the graduation of Preston’s Paige Moser, Chloe Hendrickson and Morgan Hall. Skyline graduated four from last year’s 11-5-1 girls team which took the No. 2 seed into districts. Blackfoot has a solid crop of returners, including senior Sierra Sanchez while Idaho Falls graduated six and has a new coach in Erika Cortez.

“They work hard,” Cortez said. “They have a good attitude and want to be better.”

CLASS 3A

The Sugar-Salem and Teton boys have met for the last six 3A District 6 championships and early predictions indicate the rivals are in for more battles this year.

Although Teton graduated eight from last year’s 3A state championship team, Sugar-Salem coach Oscar Bustos and Shelley coach Wes Stumbo said the Redskins will reload. As for the Diggers, several players return following the graduation of only two players from last year’s 14-3-2 team.

“They were freshmen when we went to the state championship three years ago,” Bustos said. “A lot of soccer experience to carry us through this year.”

Shelley has four seniors and Stumbo said all 18 players have been great to work with.

“The attitude is probably one of the best teams I’ve coached,” Stumbo said. “There’s nobody I can’t put in at any time.”

The two-time defending district champion Shelley girls return several from last year’s 15-2 team, which graduated only two players. Among the returners is senior forward Brittney Baron, who scored a Shelley single-season record 50 goals last year.

“We’ve been pretty excited about the level of play and just the quality,” Shelley coach Jim Gregory said.

North Fremont, Firth and South Fremont all have new coaches while second-year Sugar-Salem coach Scott Terry had only two players graduate. Teton is without last year’s leading scorers, underclassmen Lia Kluegel (moved to Wyoming) and Kate Bleffert (did not try out), and has two seniors. Coach Sandy Buckstaff said his team is the youngest he’s ever coached, but the younger players enter with a solid background at the U14 club level.

“There’s a lot of good energy,” Buckstaff said. “I’m enthusiastic about this team.”

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