Incline girls soccer coach Tom Canino couldn’t be more pleased with his juggernaut group of Highlanders. He just wishes they could showcase their ability against a higher level of competition.
“I think we’re probably going to destroy just about everybody in the Division III,” said Canino, whose Incline teams competed among the Division I-A until the end of last season, when the NIAA broke the DIII into own postseason.
This year marks the first season the DIII schools, such as Incline and North Tahoe, are completely separate from their larger DI-A counterparts from the start. The even smaller DIV schools also compete in the newly formed league.
“It’s just awful to have this kind of talent and to have to play the kind of games we’ve been having,” Canino continued, referring to double-digit wins against Pershing County and Battle Mountain in the past week. “We tried to pick up a few competitive games. We picked up Truckee, so that should help.”
Incline defeated Truckee 3-2 on Tuesday in a typical, tightly contested matchup between the traditional soccer rivals. Without the Truckees and South Tahoes to contend with, however, the Highlanders — who marched to the first-ever Division III state championship last season — have a much clearer path to the state tournament, Canino said.
The coach expects North Tahoe and Whittell to be Incline’s main competition, as well as White Pine, which played the Highlanders tough in last year’s postseason. Incline defeated Whittell 4-0 in last year’s state championship.
“North Tahoe will be probably the next-best team in the Division III — and Whittell. I expect we’ll get good games from them at least,” Canino said.
Despite losing some of their top players from last year’s team, including All-Sierra League MVP Sophie Breider and offensive MVP Haley Derr, the Highlanders return a large handful of skilled players, led by six returning seniors.
Among the top returners are senior first-team All-League selections Elise Nelson at forward, Misha Gehring on defense, Sarah Wright at goalkeeper and Kerrie Tonking, who takes over as Incline’s sweeper. In addition, sophomore forward Vanessa Andrade returns after a fine freshman season that landed her on the All-League first team. She and Nelson combine to create a nearly unstoppable one-two punch, Canino said, adding that Andrade has already scored 19 goals through the first six games.
“With Elise Nelson and Vanessa playing forward, they’ve dominated everybody they’ve played. It’s almost not even a challenge for them,” said Canino, who was voted Sierra League Coach of the Year last season, when he coached both the Incline girls and boys to state titles. Canino formerly coached the boys only.
Senior stopper Caroline May and junior midfielder Alondra Luna also returns after earning All-League second-team recognition last year.
“We’re really senior strong from the back out,” Canino said of his team, which is off to a 5-1 start, with its only loss coming against DI-A Fallon, 3-2, in the Highlanders’ opener.