Carson soccer advances to Northern 4A finals
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Having already twice beaten the Reno Huskies, 3-1, in the regular season, the Carson Senators boys soccer team had to guard against complacency in their third meeting Thursday at Damonte Ranch High School.
So several of the Senators played to their strengths and the result was yet another 3-1 win over the Huskies, this one in the semifinals of the NIAA Northern 4A Regional Championships.
“It was very exciting,” said Carson coach Jason Koop. “It was the hardest game we played with Reno out of the three. There was intensity. It was the playoffs.”
Which meant Carson’s Adam Updegrove was bringing his boundless energy, Zach Weismann was dialing from long distance, Micah Laack was taking it to the house and goalkeeper Brandon Briggs was keeping the ball out of his net.
Updegrove, a 15-year-old sophomore, set the tone for a game in which Carson, now 18-1, outshot Reno, 16-12, and put the Senators on the board first in the 30th minute after robbing a Reno defender and beating Huskies keeper Juan Lopez.
“I just pressured the defender,” Updegrove said. “He made a mistake and I took the ball and brought it to the goal. I looked for a cross, but nobody was there. I just poked it to the far pole on him.”
Updegrove made it sound easy, but the goal was emblematic of the kind of play that has earned him the nickname “Cheerio” from his teammates.
“When I was a freshman, in our first practice I puked up Cheerios,” Updegrove said of his moniker. “I was running hard.”
Nothing has changed since then and Updegrove’s hustle paid off in a goal that ignited the Carson sideline as well as its cheering section in the stands.
“The defender had the ball and Adam basically picked his pocket,” Koop said. “He poked it through, went around him, the guy was flat-footed and Adam drove it down past the goalkeeper and slot it the rear post.”
But less than two minutes later Reno tied it, 1-1, on a goal from the speedy Sergio Mercado, who outran the Carson defenders and beat Briggs from the right side.
“They (Reno) played very well,” Koop said. “(Reno coach) Santiago (Esparza) had them ready. The first half it was tough going against the wind. It was tough to overcome. It was a big advantage (for Reno). But being tied 1-1 at the half, you can’t complain.”
Especially when Weismann can put it in from 32 yards, like he did in the 55th minute. It was Weismann’s second goal from long range in as many games.
“I don’t know. They’re just leaving me open,” said Weismann, a senior, of his boot. “I’m going to take that shot every time. It’s been working out for me.”
Fellow senior Laack also scored his second goal in two playoffs games, this one on an assist from “Danger” Mats Boehnke, who picked up the rebound off a shot by Enrique “Cheeks” Mendoza and fed it to the streaking Laack, whose score in the 79th minute put the game away.
“Cheeks put it across and the defense went to Mats,” Laack said of the shot. “It was a perfect set-up. All I had to do was put it in the goal. We got them 3-1 and 3-1 – we knew they were a good team and would come out intense. We were psyched up. We were pumped.”
It wasn’t all offense for Carson, which got six saves from sophomore Briggs, including one in the 67th minute when Casey Wardell maniacally worked his way through four Carson defenders and slipped it to Mercado, who was promptly stoned by Briggs.
As deftly as he deflected Mercado’s blast, Briggs deflected credit for his performance.
“We’ve got great defense,” Briggs said. “Mats is our big guy in the center. John Nuthall is back there, taking everything he can – my defense supports me and I support them.”
Koop said the key was targeting two of Reno’s best players.
“Sergio Mercado is very quick, fast, and No. 16 (Wardell) – they team up well together,” Koop said. “If you can keep control of those two, you can do reasonably well. They are talented enough to where they can slip through and capitalize on your mistakes.
“Mats did very well. So did (Andrew) Heller, (Andrew) Hill, (Mathew) Tillitt and Little John (Nuthall).”
All of which leaves Carson to play South Tahoe, a 2-0 winner over Douglas on Thursday, for the regional championship on Saturday at Damonte Ranch High School. Carson, which last won the regional championship in 2004, split its regular season meetings with the Vikings.
South Tahoe won the first matchup, 3-1, on Sept. 23, and Carson hasn’t lost since, taking a 2-1 win over the Vikings on Oct. 18. The Senators ended South Tahoe’s five-year reign as the Sierra League champ this season and will meet the Vikings at noon.
Weismann said his team has a good chance at claiming its first state championship since 1998 and its third overall (the Senators also won the 3A state championship in 1994), and Updegrove was even more optimistic.
“We’re looking for zone (first),” Updegrove said. “I know we can do it. We’re going for it all this season.”
Lopez had three saves for Reno, which finished its season 8-6-1.