Incline soccer | Young girls squad stacked with talent
The Incline girls are scheduled to host Pershing County on Thursday at 5 p.m. to open Division III league play. The Highlanders then host Battle Mountain on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Incline boys host Battle Mountain on Saturday at 11 a.m.
Normally, losing a large handful of impact seniors would cripple a small-school soccer team.
But the Incline girls are no ordinary small-school soccer team.
Despite losing four senior All-League players (six seniors total), including first-team selections Kerrie Tonking and Elise Nelson, the Highlanders return perhaps the best offensive player in the state and a talented mix of upperclassmen and underclassmen.
“We expect to field a highly competitive team once again in 2014,” said Incline coach Tom Canino, whose Highlanders enter the season as two-time defending Division III state champions. “We are breaking in quite a few freshmen to take over for the graduated seniors, and while it is taking some time to get them acclimated to Incline soccer, they are adjusting to our game and learning very quickly.”
With a roster that breaks down to four seniors, three juniors, six sophomores and five freshmen, Canino said the younger players are fortunate to come in and learn from a seasoned group of veterans.
Caitlin and Kimberly May return along with Alondra Luna and Taylor Orblych to anchor the senior contingent, while reigning league MVP Vanessa Andrade leads the junior class. Sophomore Kassandra Luna also returns after earning first-team All-League honors as a freshman.
Canino said Andrade, a skilled forward with a nose for the goal, looks even more dangerous that last year, when she wreaked havoc on opposing defenses.
“We expect teams to game plan for her this year, and Vanessa is ready to meet that challenge,” he said. “We are also very solid in the center mid with returning sophomore Kassandra Luna, a player who has the determination and stamina to dominate the center of the field.”
After scrimmages against Spanish Springs and South Tahoe, Canino said the young squad already is showing signs of improvement.
“We saw growth in our team positioning and execution from many of our freshmen, including Rachel Homola, Madison Wallner, Emily White and Isabelle Johnson,” Canino said. “We expect big contributions from all of them this year.”
Juniors Sami Lampe and Kandace Dirga, sophomores Harmony Bates, Taylor Cheney, Emily Donohue, Bridgette Johnson and Karyss Thompson, and freshman Karla Smothers round out the roster.
Thompson has large shoes to fill as Incline’s new goalie, a position that perennial All-Leaguer Sarah Wright dominated the past four years.
“Karyss is learning by leaps and bounds every day in practice,” Canino said, adding that she still has much to learn at the position. “So far she has given us outstanding effort in learning the very difficult keeper position, and she is inspiring more confidence in her teammates every day. Maybe her best characteristic is that she does not get down on herself when she makes a mistake, but rather she learns from it, and that as much as anything has won the support of the team.”
Unfortunately for the Highlanders, while the Incline squad boasts a promising future, its Division III does not. Two DIII girls soccer programs from the south folded, leaving too few teams to hold a true state championship.
“The Division III looks like a disaster this year,” Canino said, explaining that the best the Highlanders can do is win a regional title. “They may call it a state title, but it will not fit in the NIAA definition of a state title. If we had known this at the end of last season, we could have been folded into Division I-A with Truckee and South Tahoe. As it is, this is kind of a lost year for us.”
Canino said the NIAA is considering going to a two-tiered soccer league based on competitive balance, starting as early as 2015. The system would potentially bump up the top two teams from the bottom division and send down the bottom two teams from the top division, Canino said.
Before then, however, the Highlanders figure that Whittell, whom they defeated in overtime of last year’s state championship, and North Tahoe will be their main competition.
“We expect to compete for the top of the league this year with North Tahoe and Whittell,” Canino said, “and I don’t see any reason why we can’t finish right at the top again with a good combination of skill, effort and luck.”