INCLINE VILLAGE — In a rematch of last year’s Division III state championships — and in a likely playoff preview — the first- and second-place Incline and Whittell soccer teams split a pair of spirited games in Incline Village last Wednesday.
The Whittell girls jumped on Incline early with three first-half goals en route to a 4-1 win. Incline’s boys did the same in the nightcap, scoring three unanswered goals in the first half and holding on for a 3-1 victory.
“We certainly did what we could to give it away early, and we never got it back,” said Incline girls coach Tom Canino, whose Highlanders (11-1-1) dropped to second place in the league standings, two points behind Whittell (12-1).
Whittell coach Pat Kelly, meanwhile, could not have been more pleased with his team’s performance.
“We’re playing some good soccer right now,” he said, as the Warriors are coming off a 2-1 win over Division I-A power South Tahoe last week. “I’m just happy with the effort of the girls.”
The Warriors, who fell to the Highlanders, 3-2, in the teams’ first meeting this season and 4-0 in last year’s state championship, wasted little time getting on the board Wednesday.
They scored two goals in the first 10 minutes of the game, and added a third goal before the half to take a 3-0 lead. Kenya Maltase netted Whittell’s first score and Jenny Shepack buried the next two — all on counter attacks.
“We’ve played some bad teams, and I think we got a little lax,” Canino said (Incline had defeated its previous three opponents by a combined score of 21-0). “We pushed up to attack and then didn’t get back. And then all of the sudden it was like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re not in eastern Nevada anymore.’”
Incline fought back, however. Caitlyn May scored a goal early in the second half, narrowing the score to 3-1. But the Highlanders put a damper on any comeback hopes in the 59th minute when Katherine Krolicki scored Whittell’s fourth goal on another counter.
“The fourth goal was a back-breaker,” Canino said. “I don’t think the girls let up any; we looked at 3-0 as we could come back. But 4-1 felt a lot tougher.”
Canino complimented the play of May on the right wing — “She played the game of her life today,” he said — while Kelly was impressed with his entire defense of Skylar Smith, Daria Sharon, Gianna Miller and Michael Gardner, as well as goalie Brittany Boulet.
“Incline is a good team, so to come here and beat them is a feather in our cap,” Kelly said.
Much like the girls before them, the Whittell and Incline boys played a hard-fought and physical game. But it was the Highlanders’ night from the start.
Big Incline sophomore Rey Estrada gathered a cross from Hugo Garcia in the seventh minute and kicked it past Whittell goalie Aubrey Felton for the game’s first score.
Nine minutes later, Salvador Vargas sent a perfectly placed through ball in front of Alejandro Alcantara, who hit it in stride into the lower corner of the goal, out of Felton’s reach.
The Highlanders continued their possession game throughout much of the half. They broke through again in the 34th minute to extend their lead to 3-0, as Alcantara scored his second goal off another assist from Vargas.
“I thought they played really, really well,” Incline coach Ian Hauck said of his players. “That’s the best soccer I’ve seen them play all year.”
Whittell didn’t go down quietly. Senior Mark Waite cut the lead to 3-1 with a goal six minutes into the second half.
The Warriors repeatedly tried to break through the scrappy Incline defense — led by goalie Chewy Cordova, Tommy Thompson, Marlon Correa, Danny Guerrero and Edgar Fragoso — to inch closer. But it never happened.
“In the first half we did not play our game. We did not play well,” Whittell coach Timothy Plummer said. “We came back in the second half and the kids played hard and played with heart … Nobody had their best game, but I’m proud of them overall for playing a better second half.”
The first-place Highlanders, at 9-0-2 in Division III play, increased their lead to five points over Whittell (8-3-0) in the league standings.