Carson’s expectations remain low key, Douglas looking to get back to playoffs after one-year absence
Going into tonight’s season opener against McQueen, Carson High boys soccer coach Jim Nealis and his players are just as confident as they were last year. They just don’t want to tell everybody.
“Last year, people were predicting who’s going to zone and who’s going to state,” said Nealis, now in his second year. “We peaked too early last year and we kind of lost our focus. We don’t want that to happen again. We haven’t really talked too much about what happened in the past. We’re just taking it one game at a time.”
Last year, Carson started out 10-0 and there were whispers of an undefeated season. The Senators then lost two of their next four games, including a 1-0 loss to McQueen in the first round of the Northern 4A playoffs. They can get revenge tonight at 7:30 p.m. against the Lancers in Reno.
“I’ll take about that (last year’s game vs. McQueen) tomorrow, I don’t want to get their emotions going too early,” Nealis said on Tuesday. “But we had guys who were in tears after that game. I want to make sure and let them know how they felt walking off that field.”
Jeff Rogers, just one of seven seniors expected to help Carson contend for the Sierra League title, remembers the game all too well.
“It’s definitely going to be in the back of our minds but we’re just going to go out and play hard,” Rogers said. “I’m just stoked for the season to start.”
The Senators lost four starters off last season’s 12-4 squad, which finished second in the Sierra League. Last year’s league champ, South Tahoe, armed with the talented junior duo of Alex Torres and Leon Abravanel, is considered the favorite to win it again this year. The Vikings finished the season 11-4-1. Like Carson, they were also upset in the first round of the playoffs.
“We should be on top with South Tahoe,” Nealis said. “It’s a long season and we don’t want to peak until the end of the season. But our seniors are really focused.”
Nealis has seven sophomores and a one freshman on varsity. That lone freshman, however, is Loren Woolridge, who Nealis is expecting big things from. Woolridge will start at striker with senior Bryce Burgess against McQueen.
“He’s got a lot of natural ability. Physically, he can play with the older guys,” Nealis said of Woolridge. “We have a lot of guys who can score goals but we don’t really have a natural, goal-scoring forward. Hopefully, he can be that player for us. But it might take a couple of years. He’s kind of loose now but I’m sure he’ll have some jitters come game time.”
With three-year starter Sean Carter in goal, Kirkwood Harris at stopper and Rogers at sweeper, Carson has Northern 4A’s best central defense. A pair of newcomers in sophomore Dan Pascqual and German exchange student Alex Wolhforth will be the team’s two marking backs.
Carson’s midfield is loaded. Seniors Christian Losche and Jesse Steele will play in the middle and both are creative players capable of making things happen from anywhere on the field. Junior Carlos Hernandez and senior Eric Libby, two players who played extensively last season, will be the starting outside midfielders.
With a lineup like that, it’s hard for the Senators not to think ahead. But what happened last year was a humbling experience and they don’t want their season to end like that again.
“As a team, we’re just going to take it one game at a time,” Rogers said. “But I’m expecting us to do great things this season. Great things doesn’t have to be going to state and winning it all. But I know great things will happen for this team.”
For Douglas High coach Phil Sheridan, great things would mean getting back to the playoffs after missing them last season, the first time that’s happened since Sheridan has been the coach. The Tigers finished in fifth place, one spot out of the playoffs behind first-year school North Valleys with a record of 6-9 overall and 5-6-1 in the Sierra League.
Sheridan will have only one returning senior starter in Sean Rahe, who will again be one of the top strikers in the league. One of the Tigers’ most consistent performers in Cody Krueger will not be back this season and two other would-be returners moved since last year. In tonight’s 7 p.m. season opener against Reed in Sparks, Sheridan might end up starting one freshman, four sophomores, four juniors and only two seniors.
“We’re young,” Sheridan told the Record-Courier. “They might struggle a little bit but they work hard. They’re real positive and they’re ready to go out there and just play. That’s all I want them to do, go out and play the best they can.”
Chuck Smock of the Record-Courier in Gardnerville helped contribute to this report.