Heading into the 2013 season, Wasatch boys soccer coach Dawain Wheatley had one primary area of concern.
“I anticipated we would struggle a little on defense,” he said. “We only have one defender back from last year.”
Six matches in, the Wasps have given up just three goals en route to a perfect and lopsided start to the young season. Wasatch has outscored opponents 28-3 so far, and Wheatley is pleased with how both his defense and his offense have been shaping up.
“We have a saying: all 11 play offense, all 11 play defense,” the coach said. “Our goal is no clean shots. Slide, dive, lay it out, get a face or a knee in front of the ball.”
Wasatch, which lost in the semifinals a year ago to eventual champion Dixie, returns the state’s top scorer from 2012 in Ben Powell, who had 26 goals, as well as 2011 3A MVP Alex Espinoza, who was sidelined most of last season with injuries.
As much as the Wasps have going in their favor, Wheatley said he is somewhat uncomfortable with his team at the top of the 3A rankings.
“There are five, six, seven teams in 3A that are capable of winning,” he explained. “The top seven or eight teams play really good soccer.”
Region 10 foes Judge Memorial, Juan Diego and Park City are among those quality teams as are Ogden and Region 9 squads Hurricane, Pine View, Desert Hills and defending champion Dixie.
“Benji (Nelson) has done a really good job of developing players,” Wheatley said of the Hurricane coach.
With so many strong teams in the classification, making it through region play and into the state tournament is going to be an accomplishment in itself.
“There seems to be a target on our backs and our fronts,” Wheatley added. “That means we have to step up, but it makes it exciting, too.”
Similar to the 3A competition, there are multiple horses in the race to the 5A championship, as well. Defending champion Davis has entered the season with a perfect record, as have top-ranked Brighton, Alta, Layton and Fremont.
The Bengals return first team all-state forward Matthew Coffey, who had 12 goals as a junior, and Davis welcomes back Mitch Parkinson, a first team all-state forward who sealed the 5A championship a year ago.
“I think our region is a really tough region,” said Riverton coach Paul Moizer, whose team lost in a shootout in the 5A quarterfinals a year ago. “Lone Peak, Lehi, Bingham should all be really good, and American Fork and PG aren’t far behind. I think we’ll be in the hunt, too.”
The 4A race is so far a mixed bag of competition as teams have crossed over classification lines for pre-region play.
“Our region was really, really strong in 4A last year,” said coach Brett Davis of Hillcrest, a Region 7 team. “Olympus went all the way, Murray was in that mix; I think our region has always been strong. I expect to have a good solid regional competition this year.”
The Titans and the Spartans were voted into the initial rankings by 4A coaches, topped only by No. 1 Mountain View, which lost to Olympus in the semifinals last season. Add to the list Region 5 teams Roy, Bonneville, Logan and Mountain Crest, as well as Clearfield of Region 6 and Maple Mountain and Provo of Region 8, all of which have had strong starts to the season.
“In our region, it came down to the last few weeks where three of us could have won the region depending on how the last two games played out,” Davis continued. “I think it’s going to be similar this year.”
He added that Herriman returns a solid team and Skyline has a great home field advantage.
“You can’t count them out,” Davis said of the Eagles. “Their field is a challenge for anybody visiting.”
The Manti Templars, the 2A defending champions, began the season back in the classification rankings, the only public school surrounded by a swarm of private schools from across the state.
“The 2A classification is going to be a wild ride in 2013,” Manti coach Gerald Wayman told the Deseret News. “Lots of great teams and talent to contend with. The Templars have a huge target on their back this year; we are anxious to defend the title and looking forward to competing with up-and-coming programs.”
The Templars return one of the two leading scorers from 2A a year ago in Carlos Garcia, who recorded 22 goals last season.
St. Joseph, which lost to Manti in the 2012 final, returns six key players, including three seniors — goalkeeper Mitch Koehler, midfielder Adam Brodstein and defender Kenin Richards — and three juniors — forwards David Donlevy and Oswald Cruz and midfielder Keyanu Tate.
“I feel we are a strong team with a chance to go far in the tourney,” St. Joseph coach Derek Tate said. “The boys want redemption for losing in the last minutes of the finals two years in a row.”
Sarah Thomas is a graduate of the University of Utah and has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.