Of course, the young Incline boys soccer team would love to defend its Division III state championship. But after a late start to the season, first-year head coach Ian Hauck is more concerned about the Highlanders’ next game.
“We’re just focusing right now on one game at a time,” said Hauck, who took over the boys program from Tom Canino, whom he helped coach as an assistant the past four years. “I don’t want them to feel like they have any expectations on them to win. If we win (state), that’s awesome. But if we don’t, that’s OK too.”
Hauck takes over an Incline squad that graduated eight seniors, including All-Sierra League’s Offensive MVP Kyle Reeves, who’s now playing at William Jessup University in Rocklin, and All-League first-team selection Erick Rodriguez, who’s playing at Division III Nichols College in Massachusetts.
The Highlanders also graduated All-League first-team forward Drew Bessette and second-team selections Hector Banuelos and Brian Cuadros.
All is not lost, however, as Incline has plenty of young talent coming up, as well as multiple All-Leaguers from last year’s championship team. Junior Salvador Vargas returns as the All-Sierra League’s Midfield MVP, while Oscar Gudino and Hugo Garcia, both juniors, are returning first-team players, and sophomore Rey Estrada and junior Marlon Correa received honorable mention recognition last season. Gudino and Garcia are co-captains.
“We’re doing all right,” said Hauck, noting that the Highlanders defeated Fallon 3-0 to open the season last week, but then lost to Sparks and Hug (all larger schools). “I wouldn’t say it’s the best team we’ve put on the team in the last five years. We’re just really young. But we’re getting there.”
Like many teams around Northern Nevada, Incline could have used the experience of competing in the season-opening Howell Memorial Tournament — aka the Galena Tournament. But the large annual tourney was canceled due to unhealthy air quality caused by California wildfires.
“That was huge,” Hauck said. “That could have really helped us get settled quicker and find a lot of the weaknesses that we need to focus on.”
Hauck expects much of the Highlanders’ offense to come from freshman forward Alex Alcantara and Estrada, an attacking midfielder, with help from Vargas, Garcia and Correa in the midfield. Sophomore Edwin Alamilla is Incline’s starting goalie. Gudino, a fullback, is the only starting senior on the team.
In the absence of Incline’s senior leaders from a year ago, Hauck said Garcia and Vargas have stepped up into the leadership roles.
“We’re getting there,” he said. “Since a lot of these guys haven’t played with each other, and don’t really play club, the biggest thing we’re working on is playing together.”
As far as the Highlanders’ Division III, Hauck thinks North Tahoe and Whittell will be Incline’s toughest competition. The Highlanders narrowly defeated North Tahoe in last year’s state semifinal, which set up a 4-3, come-from-behind win over Whittell in the title game.
“I honestly think the teams to beat are North Tahoe and Whittell. We play Battle Mountain this Saturday, so we’ll find out how they are, but typically, those schools out there aren’t quite as competitive,” Hauck said.
This year will mark the first full season in which the Division III schools are separate of the larger Division I-A. Before last year’s postseason, Division III soccer programs played among the DI-A ranks in a regional pod system. Now taking on schools of its own size, Incline will seek its fourth-ever state championship, which would place the Highlanders in a tie with Bishop Gorman for third on Nevada’s all-time list, behind only Truckee (7) and North Tahoe (6).
Stay tuned next week for a preview of the defending champion Incline girls soccer team.