Warrior soccer teams each two wins from state championships
In today’s watered-down playoff formats, Whittell High School’s soccer teams are reaping the exception to the norm in their new Nevada Class 2A alignment.
By virtue of their successful regular seasons, the Warriors’ boys and girls teams start the postseason in the state semifinals.
The Whittell boys, 14-8-1 overall and runner-up to Incline in division play, must raise their game as well as rise early for its state semifinal against White Pine. The action for Whittell, a state semifinalist at the 3A level the past two years, begins at 8:30 a.m. Friday at Pershing County High School in Lovelock.
Meanwhile, the Whittell girls, who shared the division title with Incline with 6-1 records, tangle with The Meadows at 12:30 p.m. Friday at the same location.
“The team has done a really good job with the freshmen and younger players stepping up and pulling together, and we’ve done what it takes to win,” said Whittell freshman left wing Hayley Shaw.
Injuries have shaken up the girls squad for the past two months, and the trend is the same going into the playoffs. Forward Mandy Ralls will miss the state tournament because a severely sprained ankle.
“It’s been an injury-plagued season, but in a way it’s been good because a lot of the younger players got on-the-field experience,” said Warriors coach Mike Leeper.
The Meadows, however, won’t miss Ralls. Ralls toasted the Mustangs for three goals during a 4-1 Warrior win earlier this season.
“That was in the beginning when we started clicking. But The Meadows was solid, though,” Leeper said.
Leeper is counting on forwards Jenna Hayes and Jackie Laurian to pick up the scoring slack in Ralls’ absence.
“I can handle it. I’ve got five years of soccer behind me,” said Hayes, a freshman.
Also appearing on Leeper’s NFL-like team injury list is senior Caitlin Fagan (reaggravated hip) and goalie Elise Thomas (broken collarbone). Both are game-time decisions.
“It’s been one of those years,” Leeper said.
The natural tendency for both Whittell semifinalists is to look past their first opponent to a possible state championship matchup with rival Incline.
“We shouldn’t get too up, or we will be dominated by Meadows,” Shaw said. “We have to look right in front of us instead of down the road.”
The Highlanders swept the Warriors Oct. 26 in Zephyr Cove, winning the girls match 5-0 and the boys 2-0 to earn the top seeds for state.
“We can’t wait to play Incline again, and we’re going to try our best against Meadows so we can go up against Incline again,” said Hayes, whose Warriors downed the Highlanders 2-0 in their first meeting.
The mood is less optimistic for the Whittell boys.
After a powerful start, the Warriors are fighting their way through an inconsistent late-season stretch.
“It all depends on how much we want it,” said Whittell boys coach Steve Maltase. “We haven’t been playing very aggressively lately. We’ve had chemistry problems all year based on injuries and eligibility.”
That assessment, however, doesn’t apply to sophomore scoring machine Nestor Flores. Flores has tickled the twine in bunches, collecting a school-record 36 goals in 23 games.
As word has spread about Flores’ offensive exploits, coaches have changed the way they play against Whittell.
“Incline bunches around him, but that opens it up for the other players,” Maltase said. “Nestor is doing a good job creating opportunities for other people, but we just haven’t been able to finish. And that’s kind of the key to this weekend.”
Flores scored a hat trick, including the game-winner with a minute to go, as the Warriors edged White Pine 3-2 on Oct. 13.
“White Pine is definitely a team we have to have respect for,” Maltase said. “They have a little speed up front, and they have a physical center midfielder who can take over a game.”
The losers are out, and the winners advance to Saturday’s finals. The boys final starts at 11 a.m., with the girls championship following at 1 p.m.
“It’s been hard for us to stay up all year,” Maltase said. “We’re lucky to have the opportunity to be in this tourney. A frustrating season can end on a positive note if we play well for two games, and that’s not much to ask.”
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