This season could not have started in a more stark contrast from the 2017 season for the Star Valley boys soccer team.
The Braves finished last year second fiddle in the Southwest Conference to Riverton and needed to beat Rawlins 3-0 in the qualifier in order to punch a ticket to the state tournament. Despite losing to eventual state champion Cody in the quarterfinals, Star Valley salvaged the tournament by winning the consolation championship.
This season, despite only a week of practice, the Braves put the past behind them immediately and defeated Cody 6-2. It was the start of a promising season that included time at No. 1 in the Star-Tribune power poll.
Star Valley dropped from No. 1 to No. 2 this past week after suffering its first loss of the season, coming 2-0 at the hands of Lander to open the Southwest Invitational. To be fair, the Braves did finish with two straight wins and that entire weekend was spent with a younger squad. A considerable amount of their starting 11 were out of town with previous spring break commitments.
“Great experience for my boys and they experienced a shootout and that’s always nice to get that experience,” Star Valley head coach Shane Hokum said. “Overall, the boys played well. Played some different positions and tried some different things and they were able to hang with the best teams in the state.”
Hokum’s mix of possession and counter has been welcomed by his current lineup. Returning all-state selection Noah Hutchinson’s eight goals so far is second to forward Gerson Lozano (11). Hokum, while admitting he leans on Hutchinson, acknowledged that sophomore Ben Henderson has fulfilled valuable minutes. Micah Hokum, Brant Nelson, Robert Choma and Tanner Thompson have also provided offensive uplift.
All of that offense, 27 goals in six victories, has caused opponents to park the bus and concentrate on defense. That has caused the Braves to adapt a quicker counter attack as opposed to Hokum’s original style.
“We’ve come out on fire with a lot of goals and other teams have started packing the box,” Hokum said, “and the only way to beat that is a quick counter.”
With no clear favorite in Class 3A, this could be the season Star Valley goes for gold. Hokum knows the Braves have to work on defending against the conventional philosophy that most Class 3A teams play with — through balls past the back line.
Defending is something the Braves have done well so far. Alek Lawson has made 24 saves and the Braves have allowed just six goals, two to Lander in the short-handed game in Green River last weekend and four to Class 4A Jackson on Saturday.
As well as the Braves have played, the added experience their young bench players gained at the Southwest Invitational should help them in the long run.
A month into this season no 3A team has been able to defeat the Braves at full strength. No one has scored on that team with all its starters and certainly no one has come close to outscoring them.
But that doesn’t mean Hokum isn’t expecting improvements along the way.
“We’re hoping to continue the style,” he said, “and mix it up with a quick attack to beat those defenses that pack the back really well.”