Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Alex Kuhn
Sports Editor 

No. 1 Warriors and No. 2 Lady Warriors have their eyes on 3A titles

 

May 16, 2018

WORLAND - The 3A State boys and girls soccer tournaments begin tomorrow morning in Jackson at Jackson High School. Both Worland programs are highly ranked and are among favorites to be the final team standing in their respective brackets.

Both teams are title contenders and are looking to bring home the first championship in the history of either program, but there are challenges up and down the bracket. Here's look at each team's path to a title.

NO. 1 WARRIORS

Since the start of April, the Warriors (14-1) have been 3A's No. 1 team. In fact, they haven't even lost to a 3A team this season or lost in regulation. The only team to beat them was 4A Green River in a shootout on April 7 in a time-shortened match for the Southwest Invitational tournament.

While the Warriors haven't lost to a 3A opponent, they've had their challenges. Most recently the No. 3 Buffalo Bison took them to extra time on May 8, before prevailing 2-1.

The Warriors have handled, and even welcomed, the pressures of being No. 1 all season. With the postseason here they'll take the same approach as they did all season and not shy away from any team.

"Nothing has really changed for us and our focus right now is being 1-0 on Thursday. You can't win the state championship on Thursday but you can lose it," said WHS boys soccer coach Ron Overcast. "We've embraced being the No. 1 team and this is new for us going in as the favorites. The boys have a done a good job of that and understanding that every team is trying to knock us off."

Added Overcast, "For the past seven years one thing I've tried to build is something modeled after Jackson. We have those expectations to be successful. It's important to have all the kids buy into that and they have. It does get nerve-wracking at times with those expectations. The program overall has won a lot of games the past six years and we're building toward having those high expectations."

The Warriors open the tournament against the Torrington Trailblazers (9-7-1) at 11 a.m. on Field 1 and of all the teams in the field, the Trailblazers are the only squad Worland hasn't played this season.

The Trailblazers boast 3A's leading, and probably most dominant scorer, Nathan Stitt. He scored 35 goals in the regular season, while the second leading scorer, Buffalo's Luke Glassock, had 25.

Stopping or slowing Stitt is another challenge for the Warriors and not just defensively, offensively as well.

"Nathan Stitt is one of the best players in the state. He's a weapon and we're going to have to have eyes on him all the time. We'll have to step up defensively but hopefully, we can get our attack going and keep them occupied on the other end of the field.

"We can attack you also and we have a lot of guys that need to be guarded. It's going to be a good game. Torrington is a good team, they have good speed, they play good defense and they have Stitt who is an excellent player. But we also have excellent players ourselves," said Overcast.

Worland has been known for lockdown defense and that tradition continued this season as they've allowed only nine goals on the year, which is the best by an impressive margin. Lander is second in goals allowed at 15 and Star Valley third at 19.

But this season the Warriors offense has been at its most dynamic in Overcast's tenure. As it sits Worland has four players in the top 15 scorers this season - Devon Mercado (12), Rylan Mocko (11), Wyatt Wyman (8) and Rudy Sandford (7). Buffalo, Lander and Star Valley are tied for second with most scorers in the top 15 at two apiece.

"The past few weeks we've tried a lot of different rotations and it's nice because we're going into this thing being able to play 16 guys. I have the confidence in all of them to step up and we've built this competitive atmosphere all season long and it really has helped us. It's nice to go to state and know you can call on 16 players without a dropoff on the field," said Overcast.

Having a suffocating defense paired with an explosive offense it's no wonder the Warriors are the favorites to bring home a title, they have the second-best goal differential at +38. Yet, when they start their march toward the program's first championship, the focus is all about winning on Thursday.

"We have game tape and notes on all of them. We've played all of them, except Torrington. If we end up 1-0 on Thursday, then we'll worry about Powell or Rawlins on Friday, and we've played both teams twice. As for the other side of the bracket, we'll let them beat up on each other and figure it out from there," said Overcast.

NO. 2 LADY WARRIORS

The past two seasons for the No. 2 Lady Warriors (11-5) have ended with a loss in the championship match. Only a handful of starters remain from the 2017 championship loss and only two from 2016's loss.

Starting Thursday many of the Lady Warriors will experience their first state tournament as a starter and while that might be a terrifying scenario for some, WHS girls soccer coach Danielle Warren likes the combination of experience from her older players and blissful ignorance from her younger players.

"I think we have a good blend of girls who have played in that championship game and those whose first time playing in a state tournament will be this week. We have excellent leadership who played in the championship game the past two years and we have freshmen that have stepped up in big ways for us. I know this will be their first time playing at state soccer but they've played in big games in other sports this year and have even taken big shots during those games," said Warren.

Relying on so many younger players like freshmen Tymberlynn Crippen, Kylie Warren and Logan Yule had its ups and downs. One of those downs was a 5-0 loss to Powell on March 27 while senior leaders Casey Wassum and Jaycee Page were in Washington, D.C.

The loss could have easily sunk the Lady Warriors. Instead, it served as a galvanizing moment.

Since the Powell loss Worland has gone 10-3 with the younger players making tremendous strides in their play on the field. Two of those losses came against Cody and the other Buffalo, and of those 10 wins one was against then-No. 2 Star Valley. Even more impressive about that win against Star Valley was it was on the road and the Lady Warriors were without four starters.

The Lady Warriors also have one of the best players in the state, if not the best, in Casey Wassum. She consistently draws double and triple teams and yet, still found a way to be 3A's second-leading scorer with 18 goals.

Worland opens the tournament against Star Valley (8-6-2) at 9 a.m. Thursday on field four. The Lady Braves lost to a shorthanded Lady Warriors team on April 27 but in their regular season finale on May 5 they beat No. 1 Cody (13-2) 1-0, the only 3A team to hand the Lady Fillies an L.

As for the Lady Warriors, they're not going to get caught up in all of that. They'll keep things in a vacuum and look to get by the Lady Braves anyway they can.

"Playing Buffalo last week really helped in that we saw Buffalo had lost to Newcastle and we kind of overlooked them. So we went into that game against Newcastle knowing that we couldn't overlook them and the same is true for Star Valley. Everyone wants to advance at this stage, we have to dig in and play like it's our last and every ball is the winning ball. It's hard to maintain but that's what it takes to win," said Warren. "Speed of play and put high pressure on them, that will be our game plan. We've been doing better with that lately and it shows with us scoring more goals."

Getting to a third-straight title match is going to be tough and with more parity this season than in pasts, a match-by-match approach is crucial to advancing in the bracket.

"Last year you could look at the bracket and know who you were going to play. It was like if we beat Star Valley, we play Buffalo and if we beat Buffalo, we'll play Cody in the championship. This year though it feels like there are too many variables to know who you are going to play. Cody is the favorite but they're not as dominant as they were last year. They can be beaten and so can we, so we're definitely going to take it game-by-game," said Warren about the team's approach for the tournament.

 
 

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