By Chuck Reherman
Yukon will have more than handful this coming soccer season.
And it starts with a big challenge on Friday.
The Millers open the season on the road against perennial state contender Norman North. The match has an 8 p.m. kickoff.
YHS will bring in a team that has six starters back from last years team, while the Timberwolves return most of a team that went 12-3-3 last year and reached the state finals.
The Millers stunned Norman North last year 2-1, winning the match on a shootout 4-3. Norman North went on to finish as the state runner-up, losing 2-0 Jenks.
“Of course it will be a very big challenge like every year,” YHS head coach Neil Hilton said. “They are a very strong program full of solid club players who always seem to compete for state consistently. It will be a good test for us to see how we match up. It will take a huge effort like last year when we found a way to defeat them with a brilliant performance.
“To have a successful result again, we need to be solid defensively,” Hilton said. “Usually they are very good in possession so we will have to be organized and block passing lanes as best we can. Then hopefully we are quick to counter when we have chances and show our quality in the final third of the field. Hopefully a good week of preparation and get to Friday with the guys fresh.”
The Millers will rely on the attacking of Zach Snow and Jackson Suffield to carry the team early. The midfield is led by returnees Jonathan Martinez, Humberto Saucedo, Mikael Stamm and Francisco Avalos.
Cody Watson will step into the key defender role and is joined by Alex Strain to bolster the defense.
Hilton has for the most part has his starting line-up and his rotation in place, but said that younger players are pressing and challenging for playing time.
“I think over the last two weeks it’s clear for the most part,” Hilton said. “We have one key player still to return which will help heading into much tougher games coming up.
I have a great group of boys, fun to coach, working hard,” he said. “We simply have to keep improving on ability to possess the ball better if we want to play with the best teams.”
The Millers hosted the annual Spring Thaw this past weekend and it was somewhat of a rough one for YHS. The Millers finished 0-2-1 in the festival.
YHS lost to Northwest Classen 1-0 and Clinton 4-0, while drawing with U.S. Grant 1-1.
“It was not a good day,” Hilton said. “In that last match, we gave all the kids a chance to play who hadn’t played much and we just wasn’t good enough ended up 4-0. But gives me an idea what is our best chance with the right players etc at least.
“It was a very hard day to judge with the wind,” he said. “All the boys games came down to concentration and whoever made the biggest mistakes and unfortunately we made some terrible ones. Hopefully we got them out the way.”
The wind, with gusts past 35 mph on the day, played havoc with all the teams in the festival. Teams had trouble moving the ball into the wind for the most part and most of the goals were scored on the north end with the wind behind the players.
In the opening match, the Millers held Grant to a 0-0 first half draw. Daniel Marquez gave the Generals the initial lead just 1:30 into the second half. Marquez on a free kick sent the ball high toward the net. YHS keeper Kaden Allen got his hands on the ball, but it skipped over the top of his hands and into the net.
Allen came up with two big saves over the next three minutes that kept the lead from expanding. He was not challenged in the first half and had five saves in the second half.
The Millers did come back to earn a 1-1 draw at the 44:32 mark. The score came on a penalty kick after the Millers drew a foul in the goal box. Jackson Suffield took the penalty and sent the ball to the left side of the night after drawing Grant keeper Ernesto Marquez to commit to the right.
In the second match, the Millers had few chances against Northwest Classen’s defense.
The Knights scored the only goal of the match at the 16:32 mark of the first half on a Daniel Vargas goal.
In the nightcap, Hilton went to his bench and played all his younger players. Clinton, who has an experienced team back from last year, took advantage and rolled to a 4-0 win.
“We managed to give many fringe players a chance to express themselves and unfortunately we came up short against a good Clinton team who had some very good attacking threats,” Hilton said. “But, it gave them an opportunity to get on the field and get some good experience.”
By Chuck Reherman