Friday morning, the Wasatch high school boys soccer team will leave the snowy valley surrounding Heber City and head for sunny St. George for a pair of games to kick off its 2013 campaign.
First up is the Pine View Panthers, a team Wasatch defeated in its first game of the year in 2011, its state championship year. Perhaps that will serve as a good omen for the Wasps who are looking to return the 3A state trophy to Wasatch County.
Head coach Dawain Wheatley is cautiously optimistic, as is his style, when approaching a season that is filled with high expectations. “I can underestimate us,” said Wheatley, “but that doesn’t mean others will.”
He is obviously referring to his lineup of experienced seniors, many of whom were on the roster when the Wasps won it all. Alex Espinoza, who was the 3A MVP as a sophmore that year, will be back and at 100 percent for the Wasps. “He played with a broken foot that hadn’t healed properly last season, so that held him back quite a bit,” Wheatley said.
Stepping into the net to take over for two-year starting goalkeeper Cooper Hall will be Cody Cowley. Even though it will be his first season as a full-time varsity starter, Wheatley has nothing but confidence in him. “Cody has waited his turn and worked hard. He is a good goalie and he knows what it takes to win,” the coach added.
Jason Larson will be the Wasps' only returning starter at defender, so he will be looked upon to lead that part of the Wasatch game. “Defense is a priority to learn quickly,” said Wheatley. “We allowed only six goals last year, and there’s now a new batch of players in the back line, so we’ve got our work cut out for us there.”
Even though Wasatch netted its share of goals last season and was only shut out once during the entire schedule, the team knows in order to win you have to be able to penetrate and score. Midfielders Domey Espinoza and Austin Broadhead, two starters from 2012, will be expected to contribute heavily on offense.
Last season’s leading scorer, Ben Powell, brings back his state-leading 26 goal campaign of a year ago to a squad that came up just short of a 3A state championship repeat, falling to Dixie 2-1 in the semifinals.
Powell, a 6-foot, 160-pound senior, remembers that feeling all too well. “We should have won it last year,” said the 2012 All-State striker. “I definitely think we’re capable of winning the state championship this year,” he added. “We’ve got a lot of experience and everybody wants it pretty bad.”
When asked if he’s ready to get the year under way, Powell, who plays only soccer for the Wasps said, “Oh yeah so ready. We’ve been working on some ball control stuff, working it out of the back, so if our defense does the job for us, we’ll be pretty good. I just can’t wait to get down there and play in some warm weather,” Powell said with a smile.
Schools like Dixie, Desert Hills, Hurricane, Pine View and the Wasps' second game opponent, Snow Canyon, all from the St. George area, have the benefit of a warmer climate to prepare in. But Wheatley no longer considers that a huge advantage for the southerners with Wasatch’s new football stadium available to his soccer team since its reconstruction in the summer of 2011.
With the soccer field on the west end of the campus still covered with snow, the team has been working out on the turf of Wright-Tree Stadium. All of the teams in Washington County’s district have turf fields, so it has been helpful for the Wasps to be able to work out on the faster field.
“It’s just fantastic, really,” said the coach. “The turf stays warm and clears easily of snow, so we’ve been able to use almost an entire field for the past couple of weeks,” he added. “I can’t overemphasize how important it is for our guys to get in that type of work before our schedule gets started. It plays a little faster and we certainly enjoy our grass field, but until the weather permits, this is perfect,” Wheatley added.
After the opening weekend in St. George, where Wasatch will field both its varsity and junior varsity clubs, it will host its first game of the year against future 4A Region 8 neighbor Spanish Fork.
Kenny Bristow is a contributor to the Deseret News high school coverage for the Wasatch region. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org