Spring is here and, rain or shine, the prep boys soccer season is underway.
Teams in all four classifications are adjusting to changes in regions while filling spots vacated by last year’s graduating seniors. A particularly notable shift is in 3A with the loss of Wasatch, the 2013 champion and annual contender for that top spot.
This season, the Wasps not only compete in 4A, they've made the jump after losing the majority of their team.
“(We) lost 10 starters and the first two off the bench,” coach Dawain Wheatley said. “We will have a positive outlook. This will be an opportunity for last year’s JV team that went undefeated to see where they stand. Every position is up for grabs. We are excited to test the 4A waters.”
Wasatch is 3-4-0 on the young season, competing with some of the best in 4A and 5A while so far sitting in the middle of the Region 8 standings.
Meanwhile, the 3A competition has been duking it out for a chance to fill the Wasps’ now empty seat. Region 9 teams Dixie, Pine View and Cedar currently take up three spots in the 3A rankings, while 2013 runner-up Park City and Region 10 foe Juan Diego have made cases for the final two spots.
“We are returning many starters from last year that have a strong motivation to compete at a high level and win,” said Miners coach Jesse Blais. “We also have a lot of new players to help fill in the gaps left from last year's departing seniors. We are excited about the season.”
Juan Diego coach Scott Platz added that his team is back with a plan to improve on its quarterfinal run from a year ago.
“We have a good and experienced group returning with some solid newcomers in Michael DiGeronimo and Brandon Sands,” Platz said. “We will have to be much better in the final third than we were a year ago, but I think we have the players to do so. We have good leadership and great talent. I think it's going to be a battle at the top of the region between Juan Diego and Park City, with the winner having a great opportunity to make a deep run to the championship game.”
The 4A defending champion Bountiful Braves have struggled to start the season, falling to the middle of the Region 6 standings after five matches, while the 2013 runner-up Orem Tigers have won just once in seven attempts.
Meanwhile, an inexperienced East squad is taking advantage.
“We are young with not a lot of seniors,” said coach Rudy Schenk. “We have some excellent young players who will need to develop quickly. (It) could be a rough start to the season, but we hope to develop and build toward making the playoffs again. We will need to shore up the defense quickly as well.”
In spite of their youth, the East Leopards have jumped out to a perfect 7-0-0 record so far, sitting at the top of Region 6. Hugo Olivera is leading the team with seven of its 18 total goals and Erick Olivas has accounted for four more.
Meanwhile, defending 5A champion Lehi is back at the top of the rankings with an early 7-1-0 record. With goals from seven different players, the Pioneers have suffered just one loss, a region meeting with Riverton (6-1-0).
Bingham coach Matt Kennaley, whose team finished in second place in 2013, has started 6-0-1 and is leading Region 3, while Viewmont is 7-0-1 and is enjoying the view from the top of the Region 1 standings.
“We have a lot of returning starters,” said Viewmont coach Dave Wigham. “And with hard work we have the chance to be a pretty good team.”
The smallest soccer classification is once again dominated by the Manti Templars, the 2013 runners-up that have recorded 33 goals in six wins. The only 2A team that has scored more is defending champion American Leadership Academy, which has 47 in five matches.
“We have a very experienced team with lots of firepower and defensive prowess,” said Manti coach Gerald Wayman.
Along with the Templars, Waterford is the only other squad in 2A still holding on to a perfect record, winning all five matches and sitting in the lead of the 2A North standings.
“Our team is mostly made up of juniors, and they have matured significantly since last year,” said Ravens coach George Shirley. “We have started with a great preseason and, if we can stay healthy, I believe we can have a good run towards the finals at Rio Tinto this year.”
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.