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  'Too Young to Get Spooked'

Rhys Yeakley expected to enter a rebuilding year after 2018's championship run, but his young team shattered his expectations.

By: Clay Hatfield
Published: 10/24/2019 11:31:30 AM

A dead cat.

While not the most welcoming sign, that’s all Caldwell boys soccer Head Coach Rhys Yeakley could find after peering inside the team’s equipment shed for the first time in 2013.

The storage unit, which Yeakley expected to house at least some useful tools for building a successful program, had been picked clean by unknown thieves, and the feline remains were all that greeted him before his debut season with the Cougars.

But the potential omen failed to phase Yeakley. The Cougars excelled to the top of the state in just a few short years, earning a third-place finish in 2016, second place in 2017 and the program’s first state championship in 2018.

That 2018 team proved to be the best squad under Yeakley’s leadership up to that point. The Cougars failed to lose a single match, fighting to two 1-1 draws against Bishop Kelly and Nampa. In every one of Caldwell’s 20 victories, the Cougars scored three goals or more, reaching the 10-goal mark twice while posting nine shutouts.

But 2018’s championship team came with a cost. Yeakley saw his group of senior stars dissipate before his eyes with 10 of his 11 starters graduating, leaving just three athletes with any varsity experience behind.

Yeakley said he knew this year would prove to be one his toughest coaching challenges to date. Perhaps not “dead-cat” level, but a steep climb all the same.

What ensued shattered his expectations.

Far from Yeakley’s predicted 11-win season, the young Cougar squad notched 16 wins en route to a Southern Idaho Conference District Championship and another trip to the state tournament.

“Inexperience was the biggest obstacle we had to overcome before we even had our first practice,” Yeakley said.

The fear of growing pains was alleviated early by the leadership of the team’s upperclassmen. Young players were guided by seniors Jonathan Vazquez and Cristian Yeakley and junior Damian Arguello. According to Yeakley, they accepted their new leadership roles without hesitation. 

“There are no selfish players on this team,” he said. “They love each other and love the game.”

This initial fear of a decline following 2018’s state championship was quickly quelled by a Cougar offense that averaged 4.6 goals per game, while the backline held opponents to 1.5 goals per game, a feat accomplished by a starting lineup featuring one returning starter.

While last year’s team went undefeated, co-captain Cristian Yeakley welcomed the humbling blemishes on this year’s record. He said he believes the team’s two losses “helped build and overcome on-the-field obstacles” last year’s team did not have to endure.

Vazquez spent last season looking up to the varsity team from his place on the JV squad. He said the youth and inexperience could have provided an easy excuse for the Cougars to underperform. Instead, he said they used it as fuel to power their high-octane offense and stifling defense.

Arguello echoed that sentiment.

“This year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for us,” he said. “But I think this could even be a better team than last year.”

Like any coach obsessed with success, Yeakley said he has some concerns heading into the state tournament. 

With the tournament being hosted in the Treasure Valley, the team will not have the four days on the road together they enjoyed last year, opening the door for potential distractions and obligations that come with being a student-athlete.

But for the Cougars, a team that spent the entire season ranked No. 1 in the statewide coaches poll, focus has not posed a problem, all thanks to — ironically — their youth.  According to Yeakley, his team is just “too young to get spooked and nervous.”

The Cougars will face the Hillcrest Knights to open the State Tournament 2 p.m. Thursday at Brothers Park in Caldwell.


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