Not long ago, the seven-time state champion Truckee boys soccer team had one major hurdle to clear en route to winning a title — the six-time state champion Lakers from North Tahoe.
Times have changed.
Sparks, which has developed into a perennial power in recent years, has supplanted the Lakers as the Wolverines’ primary soccer rival. Truckee’s Division I-A also gained a handful of large, competitive schools over the past few seasons, including South Tahoe, Elko and Fallon in the north, and Southeast Career Technical Academy in the south, which defeated Sparks 3-2 for the state championship last year.
North Tahoe, meanwhile, a Division III school whose soccer program had previously been allowed to remain in the Division I-A — where it once dominated along with Truckee — was forced to drop down to its own division this season. Same with Incline.
“I just don’t think it’s a season without playing North Tahoe and Incline,” said Truckee coach Casey Eberhardt, who, despite the change, scheduled nonleague games both home and away against the Lakers and Highlanders.
While the Truckee-Tahoe rivalries endure, the Wolverines now have to contend with a whole array of foes from across the state in their division, which is lumped into just two groups, Northern and Southern — the same as football. With all that extra competition, championship runs are simply harder to come by.
“I think Sparks is going to be strong again,” said Eberhardt, whose Wolverines went 1-3 against the Railroaders last season before losing to Southeast Career Technical Academy, 1-0, in the state semifinal. That Truckee team finished 25-4 overall. “I also think South Tahoe is going to be strong; they improved a lot from the first time we played them last year to the second time. Fallon gave us a little bit of a scare at zones, so they could be good, and Elko has had strong teams in the past. It’s just kind of unknown until we play them.
“But Sparks has definitely turned into our hardest game of the year.”
This year’s Truckee squad hardly resembles the Wolverines from a year ago, as that senior-heavy team graduated 10 players. Included in that group were league MVPs Nash and Reed McMullen and All-League talents Jesse Fereira, Jose Sarabia, Colten Roderigue, Nacho Diaz, Fernando Rodriguez, Nico Kuyper and Austin Simonpietri.
Yet Eberhardt is not concerned. He said the Wolverines have reloaded with a mix of skilled returners and underclassmen, several of whom are younger brothers of former players.
“We’re actually looking really strong I think. I definitely have a solid group of returning players. Most of them have been on varsity since they were a freshman,” said Eberhardt, adding that he has 12 returners in all. “We definitely lost a big group, but we’re fortunate to have talent coming in as well.”
Truckee’s roster breaks down to seven seniors, six juniors, three sophomores and four freshmen. Senior fullback Armando Diaz leads the way as the only returning first-team All-Leaguer, while junior midfielder David Martinez and senior fullback Max Barta return after earning second-team honors last season. Junior midfielder Thomas Arnstein and senior forward Rolando Zarate received honorable mention recognition in 2012.
Eberhardt said starting positions are not yet set as he continues to assess his players, who have only been practicing a week. He hoped to use the season-opening Howell Memorial Tournament — aka the Galena Tournament — on Friday and Saturday to determine more, but the NIAA canceled the tournament due to unhealthy air quality caused by the Rim fire.
Based on what he knows right now, Eberhardt expects Zarate, Arnstein, junior Leo Villa and sophomore Alex Colomonares to provide much of the offense up front (or from the midfield), while he’s excited to see what Martinez, junior Jordan Fereira and freshman Manuel Sarabia can do in the midfield.
Sarabia is the brother of former Truckee standout and current Truckee assistant coach Emmanuel “Morro” Sarabia, a member of the Division I Saint Mary’s College soccer team who was diagnosed last year with Leukemia. Eberhardt said the elder Sarabia’s cancer is in remission and he is doing well.
Defensive returners include seniors Diaz, Barta, Will Krengel and Oscar Martinez, as well as junior Nick Oberriter. At goalie, sophomore Gabby Serna returns after training under Nacho Diaz last year, while freshman Bailey McCain provides depth as a solid backup, Eberhardt said.
“I have a lot of new faces, but I’m excited to see what they can do,” the coach said.