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Zone is ground zero for undefeated Vikings

by Dan Thomas

Few teams would want to call a 23-game unbeaten streak a thing of the past, but South Tahoe High’s boys are entering zone soccer as a 0-0 team.

At least, that’s the mindset for the Vikings, who have not lost this season and enter today’s zone opener (at 2 p.m. today at South Tahoe Middle School) as the top seed from Division II of the Northern Nevada 4A League. If their memory seems very short with respect to their 19-0-4 season, it may be because they still have many players who remember last year’s zone tournament.

“We’ve had a great season, but we know we’re starting from ground zero,” said South Tahoe head coach Joe Winters.



“The good thing about our season is everybody’s been out to beat us, so we had to get keyed up and play hard.”

As the 500-pound gorilla of Division II, South Tahoe has drawn the best – and worst – from its opponents. While teams have been able to challenge, no one has beaten the Vikings, who finished on a five-game winning streak. Still, zone presents a different challenge, where opponents can pack it in on defense and hope mistakes prove costly to South Tahoe.



“Obviously, when it comes to zone, because of the overtimes and penalty kicks, it’s easy to sometimes kind of play a total defensive game,” Winters said. “That’s something we feel could happen with any of the teams we play.”

That’s what cost South Tahoe in the 1998 zone semifinals. A hard-fought defensive struggle against Carson – a team South Tahoe swept during the regular season – ended in the final minute of double overtime when the Senators finally caught a break. South Tahoe’s season ended one minute before the game would have gone to penalty kicks. With 16 players who return from the 1998 squad, South Tahoe seems determined that won’t happen again, by taking zone one game at a time.

“I just hope we beat them,” said senior halfback Steve Fruitman. “Teams play differently in the playoffs, so I don’t really know what to expect.

“Every team that we play, we’re just going to take one at a time.”

This year, South Tahoe draws Sparks (7-8-2 in league play), a team the Vikings defeated Sept. 18, for the zone quarters at 2 p.m. today, and could have a rematch with Carson in the semis at 5 p.m. Friday. Carson (10-6-2) would have to beat Reed (10-4-3), the second seed from Division I, to advance. While some of the players entered the season with the Senators on their minds, Winters has seen the same thing happen in games before.

“We know what it feels like,” he said. “It’s on our mind in the sense we know what can happen at zone.”

Winters lauded his team’s adjustments the first time South Tahoe met Sparks, when the Vikings won their Sept. 18 visit 5-1. South Tahoe led 2-1 on two goals from Victor Gonzales, and 3-1 at halftime after Evan Baker made a penalty shot. Sparks could get no closer, as Dave Brown and Ryan Daugherty provided the final margin in the second half.

The Vikings will strive for balance against Sparks, and try not to get behind early. The back line of fullback Paul Wilson, sweeper William Aguilar and stopper Greg Hamm has played exceptionally all season.

“They have a little bit of offense, but not much,” Aguilar said. “We’ve just got to pressure the midfield.”

Aguilar moved to sweeper from midfield, and he said his current position comes naturally to him. Aguilar earned accolades from Peter Chiarpotti for doing a lot of work on the defensive line in a shutout win over Reno on Oct. 20.

“It’s an attitude, because I used to play midfield, and then I realized I didn’t like it anymore,” Aguilar said.

That combination, and a solid midfield, have allowed forwards Evan Baker – who Winters rated the best offensive player in the league – and Andy Butcher room to roam. South Tahoe is relatively healthy, as Kerim Posada will be able to return from a pulled tendon, and Miguel Jimenez’s twisted ankle has been improving. The flu has made its way through the ranks of the Vikings but shouldn’t keep anyone off the field.

The Vikings were the top qualifiers for the zone tournament from Division II. Douglas advanced as the second seed, and will play host to Elko on Wednesday, before Reed and third-seeded Carson face off in Sparks. Fourth-seeded Reno takes on McQueen, the top seed from Division I, on the Lancers’ home field.

Tickets for Wednesday’s zone game at 2 p.m. at South Tahoe Middle School cost $5 for adults and $3 for students, while senior citizens and children 8 and younger get in free. Gatekeepers will honor NIAA courtesy cards, NIAA lifetime passes, NNOA cards and press passes. They will not honor ASB cards, booster club passes, conference passes, South Tahoe lifetime passes, South Tahoe faculty passes or any others.


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