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Miners, Falcons playoff poised

John HartNU forward Bryan Becker (in white) tries to keep the ball away from Forest Lake Christian's Kyle Smith (No. 12) earlier this year in a preseason match. Both squads are now headed to the playoffs.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

The Nevada Union and Forest Lake Christian boys soccer teams have each suffered through their share of long, hot practices since the season began four months ago.

They’ve both battled it out with the top teams in their respective leagues.

Now, gallons of sweat and countless hours on the field and in the gym later, the fun begins.



The Miners, who took second in the Metro Conference, and the Central Valley Christian League champ Falcons have each earned berths in the Sac-Joaquin Section Tournament.

NU will meet Monticello Empire League champ Vintage of Napa in its first ever postseason appearance. The division I first round showdown will be held at Redwood Middle School of Napa 3 p.m. Friday.




“The good news is we don’t have to play Davis, but the bad news is we have to play the team who beat Davis,” NU head coach Mike Voss said. “They’re a finesse team, control team. They really know how to play the game. They’re the complete package both on offensively and defensively.”

FLC, which won its second-straight Central Valley Christian League title this season and 12th overall, will be host to Sacramento Valley Christian League runner-up Trinity Prep of Napa in their Division V first-round match up 3 p.m. Tuesday.

“We’ve never played Trinity Prep before, but as the No. 2 team in their league, I don’t expect they’ll be a real strong team.

“I see a situation where we’ll be able to work on our ball control and where everybody will get a chance to play,” FLC head coach Thad Kopec said.

THE ROOKIES

NU stayed near the top of the Metro Conference table all season thanks to tough-as-nails defense led by goaltender Cody Bielen and defender Phillip Plant.

Bielen, who tallied 14 shutouts this season, frustrated opposing forwards all season.

“Cody Bielen is the best goalkeeper I’ve ever seen. He can stop anything that comes at him,” NU senior midfielder Brian Gardner said.

“Phillip Plant is our main defender, and then we’ve got four other guys who can play any defensive position,” NU senior Brian Gardner said.

Chris Russo, Casey Clark, Matt Ulinski and Garett Parez will look to lock down Vintage’s forwards down low.

In the midfield, Voss will look to Ben Hajduk, Jose Zanudo, Nate Entrekin, Luke Stratigakes, Nitai Vinitzky and Chris Schalker to control the tempo.

“As central midfielders, all of the plays are supposed to go through me and Jose. We just need to keep the ball low and keep in control and talk a lot,” Hajduk, who’s a co-captain with Zanudo and Russo, said.

Up front, Voss will use a combination of Kyle McTighe, Mark Lawicki, Bryan Becker and Darren Chapel to pressure the Crusher defense.

“All 19 guys have contributed immensely this season. They raised the (standard) to where we want to be every year. They know they can make it to sections, so it’s not just something we just talk about. Now, we expect to be here,” Voss added.

FLC head coach Thad Kopec has more postseason experience than you can shake a stick at.

Kopec, who took over the Falcon boys program in 1981 and skippered his squad to back-to-back section crowns in 1997 and 1998, had some big questions at the beginning of the season.

“We lost 12 seniors and the league’s most valuable player from last year’s team. But in some respects, I think we are better,” he said. “I believe or midfielders as a group are stronger than last year’s, and our defenders have progressed (greatly) since the beginning of the season.”

Kopec has a variety of scorers to choose from, but none are more dangerous than senior co-captain Kyle Smith.

The senior midfielder, who has notched four hat tricks this season, teams with Dane Johnson, Kory Kraning and David Hicks to lock down the midfield.

Kopec will also look to forwards Stephen Jones and Fabian Janowski to produce.

Defensively, the Falcons are solid.

Three-year starter Jared Fore’ anchors the back four at sweeper. He’ll be flanked by Mark Boatman, Joe Seisa and Stephen Denton with Joe Martin in goal.


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