It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Caldwell boys soccer coach Rhys Yeakley and his program.
But it ended up being one of the best seasons in program history.
The Cougars won 12 or more games for the fifth straight seasons (14), went to the 4A District III Championship game for the third consecutive year and finished as the 4A state runners up.
For these accomplishments, the Caldwell boys soccer team is the 2017-18 Idaho Press Tribune’s Sports Stars Boys Fall Team of the Year.
“I was just hoping for some high points to build on and to be able to squeak into state,” Yeakley said. “I didn’t think there was any way we would be able to make it to the state championship game much less come that close to winning it. So if you would have told me before the season started that we’d play in a state championship and get the second place trophy I would have taken that in two seconds. That’s a no brainer. This was the best complete team effort I’ve had since I’ve been here.”
After graduating 12 seniors, including last year’s 4A Southern Idaho Conference Player of the Year and the 2016-17 Idaho Press-Tribune Sports Stars Boys Soccer Athlete of the Year, Danny Cuevas, Yeakley didn’t have as high of expectations as he did in previous years. Caldwell was fresh off consecutive state semifinal appearances and 4A District III championships.
But the players from those teams were nearly all gone. It was something the rest of the conference was aware of.
The Cougars were picked to place third in the preseason poll and that’s exactly where they finished..
Caldwell still qualified for the state tournament for the third straight year but it didn’t exactly enter on the highest of notes. The Cougars saw their two-year reign as district champions come to an unceremonious end in the form of a 4-0 shellacking by Ridgevue. The four goals allowed were the most in two seasons and marked the worst lost of the year.
But at the 4A State Tournament in its own backyard at Brothers Park, Caldwell turned into a different team.
The Cougars upset previously unbeaten Blackfoot 2-1 in the opening round. They followed that up with a thrilling 0-0, 3-1 penalty kick shootout win over Sandpoint in the semifinals
With Caldwell up 2-1 in the shootout, junior midfielder Carlos Lechuga put the Cougars into the state title game for the first time in six years when his shot rattled into the right corner of the net.
“I knew I had the whole team on my back with that shot,” Lechuga said. “If I made it we won, if I didn’t, anything could happen. So I knew I had to make that shot and when I did, it was just like the best feeling ever. I’ll never forget that moment for the rest of my life.”
But the magic ended there.
Caldwell was eight minutes away from its first state championship in 21 years when Wood River scored a pair of goals in a two-minute span to rip the title away in heartbreaking fashion.
“It sucked that things didn’t go our way late and the result ended up not being in our favor. But I still think we played great as a team,” senior defender Erick Arizmendi said. “It was a great experience having the community out and watching us play. We weren’t expecting to go that far so I felt like we didn’t lose anything.”
The Cougars, though, will have a chance next season to make amends for that shortcoming. They are set to return 9 starters next year so the state championship that slipped away could be within their grasp.
“We’re already excited,” junior midfielder Adrian Arguello. We will have a lot of potential again and we expect to do big things. We already went to one state final and with a lot of players coming back, I don’t see why we can’t do it all again, with a different outcome of course.”