Warriors hoping to missed playoff opportunity behind them
Whittell High’s boys soccer team runs briskly through a preseason drill, pelleting the goalkeeper with crisp shots in angled directions. Each player takes his turn while the others yell words of encouragement.
Although it’s early in the year – the team has played in just one preseason tournament – the Warriors are determined to leave the undetermined nature of last year’s squad in the past.
“No one screws around too much. Everyone is working hard and wants to do well. We choked against Incline last year. We couldn’t put them away,” said senior returner Dusty Apocotos.
Whittell’s uninspired finish against Incline High in last year’s final league contest is the thought that rallies the 1998-99 team. Needing just a tie to advance to the state playoffs, Whittell scored early, but literally watched as the Highlanders delivered two unanswered goals. Whittell never threatened and finished the season at 14-7 (6-4 league) and missed the playoffs.
“The attitude that a lot of the guys had was that they were sick of playing. Some of them said they didn’t even want to make the playoffs because they didn’t want another week of practice. Once we lost, most of the seniors realized they had nothing left. I don’t want that to happen. I don’t think it will,” Apocotos said. “(Now) all the young guys are really stepping up physically wise. It looks like we’re going to improve a lot. I have to lead verbally and by example. When they see (returning players) going hard and knocking guys down, they’ll follow that and look up to us.”
“We’ve talked about that (loss). It was a big senior letdown,” added fourth-year coach Steve Maltase. “They didn’t care. Their goal wasn’t to win the championship. It was disappointing to the rest of the kids and they don’t want that to happen. I’m not saying they’re going to win the championship, but they want to do as well as possible and extend the season as long as they can.”
Apocotos, the team’s 1997 goal leader, leads a small but talented group of six returning starters. Seniors Chris Boudreau, Antonio Flores and Apocotos join juniors Todd Echan, Bryce Schussell and Kyle Spignola. Apocotos was first-team all-league, while Spignola and Echan were second team.
The Nevada 3A soccer league will be reconfigured this year. Teams will no longer vie for the top four spots in the state. Rather, like other 3A sports, the teams will compete divisionally for a state playoff berth. Whittell, Incline, Manogue, Lovelock, Dayton and Yerington comprise Division II. Hawthorne has no boys team.
“I think it’s great. We get to see everybody in our division twice. We’ll get a better idea of what to expect. The way I see it now, it’s going to be a battle between Manogue, Incline and us for the two spots,” Maltase said. “Incline’s definitely the team to beat. I think everybody in the league feels the same way. They return almost everybody.”
Whittell lost all of its defenders, including the goalie. Mostly sophomores and juniors will fill the defense, with 10th-grade keeper Joe Piccola getting the varsity nod.
“We’re a lot younger, but I think we’re more talented as far as skills. If we can improve on our aggressiveness and winning 50-50 balls, we’ll be a better team in the long run. Our strengths will be up the middle,” Maltase said. “If these guys can play up to their potential all year, they can do anything. We’ve got a long preseason to get things straight.”
The Warriors play North Tahoe in a preseason contest on Thursday at 5 p.m. The first division game is scheduled for Sept. 22 at Truckee.
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