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Joining forces

by JASON ELLIOTT
Sports Writer | June 20, 2010 9:00 PM

COEUR d’ALENE — During the high school season, they are rivals.

Now, bound with a common goal, boys from Coeur d’Alene, Lake City, Sandpoint and Moscow high schools have transformed into allies as they prepare for the US Youth Soccer Region IV Championships starting Monday at the State Farm Soccer Complex in Bernalillo, N.M., just outside of Albuquerque.

The Coeur d’Alene Sting under-18 boys and U13 girls soccer teams each won State Cup titles to qualify for the regional tournament, which runs through next Sunday.

• • •

The U18 team features six players from Coeur d’Alene, three from Lake City, six from Sandpoint and two from Moscow.

“We’ve been playing against them our entire lives,” Coeur d’Alene High’s Jordon Eborall said. “I’ve always hated them and couldn’t stand playing against them. Then we had a tournament in Las Vegas and it started to click and we developed a good bond.”

Often when soccer players get to the U18 level, they opt to join forces with other clubs around the area, in this case playing under the Sting name as Coeur d’Alene is centrally located between the three schools.

“For all of them to buy into the team concepts is a big deal,” Sting director of coaching Ken Thompson said. “These kids would have been with three different clubs last year and went to four different high schools. It’s a good thing. As a group, they look at it as the North vs. Boise teams.”

The road to regionals has been a long one, but Thompson said it has been paved with plenty of time and effort.

“We’ve been in existence for 25 years,” Thompson said of the Sting. “After the first seven years, we started putting more into coaching. Our coaches really do a great job.”

The Sting have sent teams to regionals in the past, but generally the Boise clubs qualify the bulk of the teams to regionals.

Thompson attributes the Sting program’s success to bigger events and more places to play in the area.

“We created more fields and the players started working harder,” Thompson said. “Our Hot Shot tournaments bring over 120 teams to the area — so the competition has increased also.”

As for the U18 team, “They’ve all been involved in a soccer program at some level for 12 years,” Thompson said. “They look at it as a way to get the best from the North and go compete with the best from the rest of the state.”

Sting U18 coach Matt Ruchti, who is also the Lake City girls soccer coach, added that the balance of the team has helped with their success at the state level.

“Anytime you can get the best players playing for the same program, it will benefit you,” Ruchti said. “It definitely helps us compete with teams from the Boise area.”

The group just started playing together this spring, competing in some 30 matches together, including four tournaments.

“The first tournament in Portland, nobody knew each other,” Eborall said. “We didn’t know how to play with each other and we weren’t very good. As the year went on, we started to play better because we formed a bond and started to figure it out. We got to the State Cup finals and made the decision we couldn’t let this good of a team end its season in the championship game.”

Coeur d’Alene and Lake City players have combined on Sting teams for years. After a few games, they got used to the addition of the players from Sandpoint and Moscow.

“I love it,” Eborall said. “They (the Sandpoint and Moscow players) bring a new energy to the team. They live in smaller towns and soccer is what they do. It’s cool to experience that. It makes us more passionate about what we do.”

“We’re fortunate as a club to have kids that are willing to make the commitment they are,” Ruchti said of the Sandpoint and Moscow players. “They’ve made the commitment by traveling to be at workouts and wanting to play with the best. We offer good coaching, atmosphere — and the opportunity to succeed is there.”

At regionals, the Sting play Arizona (Sereno 92 White) on Monday, Nevada (Las Vegas Premier 92) on Tuesday and Southern California (West Coast FC) on Wednesday in pool play.

“The level of the competition will be above what they’ve seen in high school,” Ruchti said. “Some of them have had some success at the high school level, but this will be the best soccer they’ll see until they get to college.”

Sting players already committed to colleges are: Scott McMurdie (Coeur d’Alene), North Idaho College; Anders Nostdahl (Sandpoint), Whitworth University; Daniel Anderson (Sandpoint), Cal-State Stanislaus; Zac Linscott (Sandpoint), Whitworth; Tom Osborne-Moss (Lake City), Community Colleges of Spokane; Jordon Eborall (Coeur d’Alene), Community Colleges of Spokane and Adam Crossingham (Sandpoint), Yavapai Community College. Another graduated senior is Matt Lieggi (Lake City).

Eight players from the Sting U18 team haven’t committed to play at the college level, because they will be high school seniors this fall.

Those players are: Tanner Williams (Sandpoint), Grant Stimmel (Coeur d’Alene), Nick Higgs (Lake City), Jansen Rinck (Sandpoint), David Sanchez (Moscow), Drew Morgan (Coeur d’Alene), Jimmy Keith (Coeur d’Alene) and Nico Sanchez (Moscow).

“Some of those kids are being recruited by teams in California,” Ruchti said. “We’ve got kids anywhere from Division I to III level that are representing us. A good core of them will be playing in college eventually.”

The Sting will be missing two of their top players after each suffered injuries during the Idaho State Cup championship match in Boise.

Casey Shellman (Coeur d’Alene) and Linscott both left the title match with injuries and will not compete in regionals.

“That championship game came at a cost,” Ruchti said. “It’s going to be tough to go down there without them. They’re a good group of guys and we’ll miss them.”

• • •

The U13 group merged from two Sting teams last year to one this season.

“Our U13 girls team is a great group,” Thompson said. “They have an ability on the ball that is as great as any team that has came through the program. They love the game, work hard at getting better and have learned a lot this year.”

“They’ve worked really hard this year,” U13 coach Bob Walker said. “They are a very talented group of girls. They knew the competition was going to be tough, so they were playing both indoors and outdoors to prepare for the spring season.”

The squad came into State Cup unseeded, but beat Boise Capitals teams ranked first and third, as well as Les Bois and Cinergy on the way to the title.

“It was a very tough round of matches,” Walker said. “To have five matches in five days, the girls worked hard in each match. We were very, very proud of them.”

The win was so unexpected, the top-seeded Capitals team had to alter their travel plans.

“They’d already bought their tickets to Albuquerque,” Walker said. “It was a hard match, but it wasn’t a fluke that we beat them.”

Walker added that the team’s athletic ability is another reason the team has progressed.

“They’re big and athletic for their age,” Walker said. “They are all very smart. They’ve each had a series of successes before we got them, so we’ve utilized their strengths and worked together and played smart to get to this point.”

Walker credits a trip to a tournament in Seattle with bringing the team together.

“They saw what they needed to do against the Boise teams over there,” Walker said. “They worked hard on their skills and succeeded. Each of them knew what they wanted, got after it and did it.”

However, Walker knows it will take a better effort in New Mexico to compete.

“It’s going to be tough,” Walker said. “We’re playing against Southern California (San Diego Surf), Northern California (Mustang Mavericks) and Oregon’s champion (United Mercury) to begin the tournament (in pool matches Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively). The level of play in California is very high. They will each be tough matches and we’ll have to play the best soccer we’ll play all year long. It’s going to take some heart, but these kids have an amazing work ethic.”

U13 defender Sarah Lambert added the State Cup win was unexpected.

“We’ve always been underestimated,” Lambert said. “To have a chance to show what we can do is a big honor. To win at such a young age gives us a chance to really go show what we can really do.”

Walker feels his team can compete with the best of the best.

“We’re capable of doing very well down there,” Walker said. “Hopefully, we’ll give them some competition that they’re not ready for.”

“We need to work hard,” U13 Sting midfielder and forward Natalie Wheelock said. “We could go pretty far. To get to the championship match will be really hard — but it could happen.”

Temperatures in the Albuquerque area are expected to in the 100s during the tournament.

“It’s tough,” Walker said. “The weather is going to be a factor down there. We’re working with the girls to prepare for it, drinking fluids, conditioning and what to do prior to getting down there.”

Of the program’s success, Thompson added it belongs to everyone involved, not just one person.

“All the kids have really worked hard to get here,” Thompson said. “It says a lot about our players, coaches and volunteers. To be here says a lot about their dedication to the sport.”

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